Wolfgang Baur (the_monkey_king) wrote,
Wolfgang Baur

Screen Time

In the dark ages (before Windows XP), I worked in electronic books and learned far too much about on-screen reading from academic studies, focus groups, and test labs. The more I saw, the more I thought that paper periodicals were doomed in the long run. Electronic text was just *better* than paper for most purposes, outside a few niches such as reading offline. With the onset of ubiquitous wireless, I figured that paper newspapers and magazines would soon become the poor cousins of electronic text media. Now, Wired has caught up with me in a "Young people don't want paper anymore" article. It's about time they figured it out. The killer grafs:

Imagine what higher-ups at the Post must have thought when focus-group participants declared they wouldn't accept a Washington Post subscription even if it were free. The main reason (and I'm not making this up): They didn't like the idea of old newspapers piling up in their houses.

Don't think for a minute that young people don't read. On the contrary, they do, many of them voraciously. But having grown up under the credo that information should be free, they see no reason to pay for news.

If anything, this trend article is hugely behind the curve. The nature of timeliness has changed. Daily newspapers can no longer keep up with the news cycle run on cable news or any decent news site. Plus, paying for content is so 20th century.

And it's not just the young people, it's also the mainstream, at least in urban centers like Seattle. Political blogs now drive news coverage, entertainment sites drive visits to concerts and shows, game reviews are better online, the important restaurant listings are all online, and so forth. This is not news to anyone. I rarely pay for subscriptions to paper versions of anything. I read the free weekly newspapers. I have comp subscriptions to a half dozen magazines. Sure, I'd love to get the paper version of The Economist, but my really important reading is all in my bookmark list.

Where does this leave newspapers and magazines? In a hard place, trying to eke out a living from a dying subscriber base while trying to figure out how to make online delivery turn a bigger profit. The primary successful example is the WSJ, which just asks you to pony up cash for content. The laughable one is the NYTimes, which wants to sell you a lame PDF of the paper edition. Yick. Most others are trying to get by on advertising revenue alone.

None of these periodicals strike me as being willing to abandon their paper editions just yet. This worries me a little, because I know a good many folks in the biz, and over time the paper editions will become less and less viable. Taking Paizo as an example: I'd like them to stick around, thrive, and make the transition. Their current web presence is fairly thin, consisting mainly of messageboards, without any daily updates of content, without online advertising, and without archived copies of the magazines. In other words, the web site isn't good enough to make my bookmarks list, though I do stop by once a month to see what's new on the boards.
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