My NY Times Electronic Edition: Ending a Moral Dilemma

Posted on December 31, 2010. Filed under: Content, Jazz, Media, Newspapers, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? While you read my last post of the year, enjoy saxophonist Houston Person and friends asking that question in their swingin’, jazzy way.

In addition to writing one last post, I decided to end 2010 by finally changing my New York Times paper subscription to the Electronic Edition – a day ahead of the Times’ new pay policy for online-only readers. I’ve been working my way to this moment gradually.Paper Boy by leslieblissphoto CC

A while back I downsized from daily to the ‘Weekender’ subscription. Most of my papers were going into the recycling bin unopened. I had lost the luxury of time to sit and read the paper leisurely over coffee and instead began grabbing the Times news headlines and my favorite features online.

Even with the weekend-only change, I still ended up tossing out most of my papers unread and decided to go to the online only subscription. Now it’s interesting to know that the Times will allow us to change our home delivery subscriptions online. But if you want to ditch paper in favor of bytes, it’s not so easy. It requires a phone call. And voice mail hell offers every option but switching to an online-only subscription.

When I finally got a ‘customer service’ rep on the line, she practically begged me not to go all-electronic but to just try a Sunday-only home delivery subscription and she would give me a special promotional price to keep receiving the print paper. I would continue to get full online access as a print subscriber for free. The promotional price and the almost desperate appeal got me to relent and, until now, I’ve been receiving the Sunday paper. Same thing. It still often goes unopened, while I read the Times daily on my computer or smart phone.

I am happy to pay for the New York Times’ content in whatever format. It’s worth it. It costs a lot of money to hire the best reporters, editors and columnists, build an online future and whatever else is required to keep high quality news coverage coming. We shouldn’t expect it for free.

As I struggled with the waste of paper that my subscription continued to represent, I also thought about the guy who delivers it daily and the fact that I’m contributing to his having a job. Same with the paper mill workers and the printing plant employees. We have to reckon with the fact that the gains of evolving technologically into the future usually mean losses for older platforms.

That said, I decided to make a statement about the importance to me of my ‘newspaper of record’ by standing up and saying, “Of course I’ll pay for this; even before I have to.” So I braved the Times’ subscription phone lines once again to switch to the Electronic Edition. Once again the rep tried to sell me on another Sunday-only promotional price to keep me getting the paper.

“Why?” I asked. “My current subscription costs me $4.90 a week and the online subscription will be $20 a month. So you’re not losing any revenue on my switch – and, in fact, The Times is gaining margin. And, while we’re talking, why can’t I make this switch to online – online?”

The answer to the latter question is that it’s to be sure that it’s really me requesting the change. Given the process I had to go through to switch – it also appears that there are two separate subscription systems for print and online readers. Not very tech-forward.

“But,” I asked further, “If the reason I have to do this on the phone is security, and you’re not losing me as a customer, nor are you losing revenue, why the big push to keep me as a print customer.”

Her answer was bemusing: “Lots of people are switching to the Electronic Edition, and we’re trying to keep the paper in circulation.”

As far as I can tell, whether its content is in digital or print format, the Times remains in circulation. In fact, digital has the potential to circulate the stories far beyond a print run. Maybe the paper needs to make a further conceptual shift that what it has of value to sell is content, regardless of the delivery system.

The evolution of media is a fascinating topic to me. It would be great to hear more from someone at The Times about what its online transition strategy involves. In my effort to go paperless, I felt somewhat manipulated and I’d really like to know why the Times thinks that’s necessary.

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