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Some Good News For Newspapers

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NYT Digital Subscriptions ‘Surprising Success’

The Walrus loves newspapers. I love the roar of the press, the scramble to make deadline, even the ink rubbing off on my fingers. There’s something magical about the process that provides a daily recap of what’s happening in both the world and my hometown, and gets it to me in a timely and affordable fashion every single day.

In the ancient days of the Walrus’s late, lamented journalism career, the Interwebs were a new thing. Print ruled, and no one quite knew how to publish news on the Web and still make money. So newspapers for the most part gave away on the Web — for free — the same information they were charging print subscribers for.  In the beginning, it was no big deal. Print still ruled, and advertising paid the bills.

But then a few things happened. People liked getting their news for free, and continuously updated. In fact, they liked it so much that they stopped buying print subscriptions. Then came Craigslist and other online classified services. Those siphoned off the most important sources of newspaper revenue — classified ads.  And so began a steady downward spiral of print journalism.

As the classified ad revenue crashed, few papers have found a way to produce significant replacement income. Now there’s evidence the New York Times might have found a way to make money from digital subscriptions. (Disclosure — I am a former print reporter once employed by a Times Regional Newsgroup newspaper.)

A year after initiating a pay structure for its online content, the Times is exceeding expectations for its digital edition. The success of the digital side has even prompted a boost in print subscriptions.

Even the Walrus has made the switch to digital. I recently dropped my long-standing subscription to the Sunday print edition of the NYT in favor of a 7-day a week subscription on an e-reader. It cost me an extra $4 a month, and if I subscribed for a year, the reader was free.  How could I resist?

Would I prefer an old-fashioned newspaper in my hands every day, complete with all the national ads and different sections? Sure. Is the digital version a lot more convenient, more portable, and potentially more environmentally sound? Yes.

But at this point, after a decade of declining revenues and painful newsroom budget cuts, anything that helps keep the quality of traditional print reporting alive, in any format, is a good thing.

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