• ADVERTISEMENT

    Kicking Ink: The Struggles of a Print Newspaper Unsubscriber

    by Mark Glaser
    May 19, 2009
    It sure looks like a print newspaper but it's not -- this is from the Chronicle's PDF image of its front page that runs on the SFGate website.
    i-39288c2817eac37f62be482abaf64a22-kindle 2.jpg

    I knew the day was coming, but it was still a shock when the day came. Groggy-eyed in the early morning light, I slowly went down the four flights of stairs in the front of my building and looked down. Nothing. For 18 generally uninterrupted years, I had the San Francisco Chronicle delivered to me, except when neighbors stole it. Today, there was nothing to steal.

    I had made the call a couple days earlier to cancel my print subscription. After going through the process of getting the Chronicle at a reduced rate of $20 for a year of Wednesday-through-Sunday delivery, then having that rate shoot up to $400+ per year, the time had come to cut the cord. Or stretch the cord, depending on what I would now be reading over breakfast.

    I have written for newspapers and about newspapers for years, so it's difficult to drop my subscription knowing it will directly harm journalists doing good work for my local paper."

    Because, after all, I write and edit a site dedicated to the way media habits are changing, so why can’t I change my own habits? What was keeping me in ink and paper for so many years? The morning ritual of reading the paper over breakfast? Sharing it with family and loved ones? The simplicity of taking a glance at the news, cutting out an article by hand? Extra wrapping paper?

    ADVERTISEMENT

    The holdup was what would replace the newspaper. Sitting at a laptop while eating breakfast seemed wrong. But now I have a Kindle 2 with a monthly subscription to the New York Times (and I can get a subscription to the Chronicle as well). My iPhone is loaded with news apps like the AP Mobile Network and the New York Times — both of which are free.

    I’m still not sure how this will play out day to day, how my newspaper habit will be replaced precisely, but I am sure there will be benefits to my new newsprint-free life. As with any life-changing decision, I have to weigh the pros and cons, so here’s what I imagine they will be:

    Benefits of No Print Newspaper

    1. Lower carbon footprint. I’ve discussed in-depth the environmental costs of our dead-tree habits. Now I can see first-hand how much less paper there will be in my life — just from not having to drag down two bags of newspapers to the recycling bin each week.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    2. No print subscription cost. For now, I can read newspaper content on my iPhone, on the web and even at reduced rates on my Kindle. While newspaper and media barons have been making noise about charging for content, the current reality is that it’s largely free and will be a cost savings for me.

    3. No delivery hassles. Probably less of a big deal, but there is the occasional delivery problem where I have to call to get my newspaper re-delivered. Or I would have to deal with newspapers piling up when I go on vacation. No more.

    4. News outside the bubble. I used to rely almost entirely on the Chronicle for local news. Now I have more motivation to look outside the paper to online-only local sites like Mission Local, SF Appeal, Spot.us, and the Public Press. I should have been doing that already, but having no print paper will make this a more obvious choice.

    5. Customizing the news experience. Not only can I look online for more local sources of info, but I am now much more likely to use custom aggregators such as DailyMe or Google Reader more than I currently do. If my news habit is going digital, it’s also going to need a lot of smart filtering so I’m not hunting around for news half the time.

    6. Share-ability. If you want to share a story online, it’s just a few clicks away. Just hit the “email” button and fill in your friend’s email address and it’s off to their inbox. Of course, it’s a bit more difficult sharing from a Kindle or from an iPhone app.

    Downsides of Not Having the Print Newspaper

    1. Losing the ultimate portability. Print’s biggest advantage over digital has always been the portability of it. You can take it with you anywhere and read it anywhere — even on planes when the “no electronic devices” ban is in effect. It needs no electricity, no charging, no connectivity.

    2. Different shared experiences. While it’s certainly possible to share what I read on digital devices, it’s just not the same as passing a newspaper around to a group of people, or reading comics with my son, or clipping a story to save for later.

    3. Disposability. With a newspaper, when you rip a page or spill coffee on it, it’s not a big deal. With a digital device, a spill could cost you $299. This might be something you get used to, or devices might adapt to their surroundings and get more rugged. But ultimately when you swap an inexpensive print paper for a more expensive device, there are trade-offs.

    4. Convenience on the go. Print newspapers are super-convenient to pick up cheap while commuting, traveling, hanging at a cafe, or doing anything while out and about if you don’t have your other digital devices with you. That might be less true with the advent of smartphones, but print publications always seem like great fodder to fill up time on the go.

    5. Killing the business. I can be detached and say over and over that the newspaper business is responsible for its missteps and the sad state of its dwindling revenues and it has only itself to blame for its current mess. But still… I have written for newspapers and about newspapers for years, so it’s still difficult to drop my subscription knowing that it will directly harm journalists doing good work for my local paper.

    *****

    I will be giving regular updates on my life without the print newspaper on my Twitter feed, and will let you know if I backslide when they make me a seriously cheap offer for newspaper delivery.

    In the meantime, tell me your own experiences “kicking ink” and how it’s changed your life (or not). Feel free to write me through the Contact Form on MediaShift or via the comments below.

    Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

    Tagged: kindle online newspapers print print is dead sf chroncle
    • I don’t think you have changed much on news consumption if you change from paper to an electronic device for reading, the good old fashion, but outdated way to stay informed, getting news of an elapsed times – carefully picked and mashed-up to fit many – either way.

    • Jake White

      Interesting that the only way I ever would have found and read your article (which I enjoyed btw!) was digitally, through Google News on my Ipod Touch. Even the weekend NYT doesn’t possess enough space to begin to cover a *fraction* of the good new material appearing every minute on the net. Item #4 on the plus side is even bigger than news beyond the bubble-it is about access to this this entire immense Universe of constantly appearing stories offered by the digital world. If you know where and how to look (that’s why some of us are librarians, hehe :) the information can be
      immensely powerful – far, far beyond what any print newspaper has ever offered. – J.

    • BHNYC

      Have fun reading nothing but “citizen journalists” and bloggers after you help kill off the Chronicle and every other newspaper!

      I’m sure they’ll keep you just as up to date on your community as a large staff of professional writers and editors. Probably even more so! You know, because bloggers and Twitter are going to save the world.

      Pretty ironic that you’re writing this on the PBS Web site, where the government helps pay the salary you’re trying to deny journalists at non-government supported outlets..

    • Jamie

      I found your post while eating cereal in my pajamas during my normal morning ritual of reading news and blogs on my laptop. I’m 30. Even with a journalism degree, I’ve never been attached to the paper version of a newspaper, but it breaks my heart that amazingly talented journalists are losing their foothold because the industry is losing money. Bloggers and Twitter have a lot of the spotlight now, but we’ll always need true journalists to tell us what really going on. I hope the industry finds it’s way off this path to bankruptcy.

    • Dan Fost

      Say it ain’t so Marc! 1, I have found that often telling a newspaper I can’t afford it, they’ll make me a deal (like that $20 deal you had from the Chronicle). If you call and tell them you can’t afford it, they should give you a better rate.

      Then again, maybe they won’t, as they need to make readers pay for all the ads that are gone. It’s rather amazing that the Chronicle still has the best mass audience in the bay area – 300k subscribers – but still struggles to sell ads.

      I’ll be most interested to hear your take on discovery. Often I find myself reading a Bay Area story or business or home & garden or whatever because the page flops open in print, but I might never see that story if I’m only going to sections that I’ve pre-selected online. Yet I do discover things online (via Twitter etc) that always surprise me, so maybe that one is a wash.

    • BHNYC,
      I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game — that if newspapers go out of business there will just be “citizen journalists” and bloggers who don’t do journalism. The sites I mentioned are online-only and have actual journalists doing journalism — in some cases getting paid to do it. I don’t think newspaper journalists ever cornered that market.

      Dan,
      Yes, it is sad, and yes, they did make me plenty of cheapo offers when I cancelled. But for now, I’m going without and will see how it goes, how much I miss it, etc. There is an issue with discovery and portability, but I’ll see how the Net and e-readers can replace that. The Chron does still have a large audience but that doesn’t mean other outlets can’t build up a similarly large audience. I’m pretty sure the SFGate gets more readers per day than the print Chronicle.

    • Good luck. My wife and I cancelled our Chron subscription in Dec. We just re-started last month. In part because they offered a cheap-o deal. But we did miss the convenience, habit, etc. But then, I don’t have a Kindle.

    • jd wolfe

      I just can’t let go of my print newspaper! I receive the St. Louis Post-Dispatch home delivery daily – and the newspaper ain’t what it used to be. But, I have been reading the daily newspaper for about 55 years and just can’t cut it off even though I could probably use the almost $40 each month for something more practical. I would never read the columnists I do everyday, altho’ my adult kids go directly to their computers each morning with their coffee. They were raised on the Post-Dispatch but seem to have dispatched it easily. I think it’s a generational thing. I love the computer, but I think I NEED my paper.

    • Mark, I’d hate to be held responsible for you canceling your Chronicle subscription. The Public Press was founded on the notion that San Francisco ought to be able to support multiple general-interest publications on various business models. You don’t have to cancel one to start reading another.

      “Killing the business” is not a trivial concern. Now, I don’t expect you to subscribe to something you don’t want entirely out of a sense of civic duty, but it has to be a consideration.

      What we need are news organizations that produce such a sense of loyalty and gratitude in the readership that they’re willing to support it financially. That’s a hard proposition to test when there’s only one paid newspaper in town.

    • Ben

      Apologies for my tardiness on the subject, but I just discovered this blog after reading an article by Chris O’Brien. Like @Jaime, I also studied journalism and never grew attached to the newspaper in its traditional form. Frustrated with media mergers, corporate ownership, and synergistic tendencies, which continually worked to reduce the quality of content on the printed page in exchange for more profit, I quickly grew weary of newspapers and, instead, gravitated to NPR and Google News.

      I don’t own a Kindle yet, but imagine that it will soon be a welcome addition to my growing arsenal of portable devices. In my view, your positives grossly outweigh the negatives, and I think time will show that you will easily adjust to carrying the Kindle around like a notebook and passing it around the room for others to read. For me, the environmental and cost implications are its biggest advantages. Regardless, we have known for years that the landscape is changing, and advertising along with it. Journalists will figure out a way to make money online, but not before business models are completely redrawn.

    • Ben

      Apologies for my tardiness on the subject, but I just discovered this blog after reading an article by Chris O’Brien. Like @Jaime, I also studied journalism and never really grew attached to the newspaper in its traditional form. Frustrated with media mergers, corporate ownership, and synergistic tendencies, which continually worked to reduce the quality of content on the printed page in exchange for more profit, I quickly grew weary of newspapers and, instead, gravitated to NPR and Google News.

      I don’t own a Kindle yet, but imagine that it will soon be a welcome addition to my growing arsenal of portable devices. In my view, your positives grossly outweigh the negatives, and I think time will demonstrate that you can easily adjust to carrying the Kindle around like a notebook and passing it around the room for others to read. For me, the environmental and cost implications are its biggest advantages. Regardless, we have known for years that the landscape is changing, and advertising along with it. Journalists will figure out a way to make money online, but not before business models are completely redrawn.

    • Ben

      Sorry for posting twice. Had a problem with the spam filter.

  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »

    Follow us on Social Media

    @MediaShiftorg
    @Mediatwit
    @MediaShiftPod
    Facebook.com/MediaShift