Occasionally I’ll buy a real newspaper, a proper physical one that makes crumply noises when I turn the page and causes me to accidentally smudge newspaper print on my face which of course I don’t realise until the end of the day and it slowly dawns on me that people weren’t looking at me because I just look that fabulous, they were staring because I look like a Dickensian street urchin. Most of the time however, I get my daily news fill from a newspaper website.
And it seems that I’m not the only one, according to the Pew Research Center, on a typical day 39% of Americans get news from online sources and only 29% receive any news from a physical newspaper and I don’t think it’s because they’d rather have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than ink smudges on their faces. It’s because we’re a product of the time we grew up in and more and more people are growing up alongside the internet. We can check off at least 93% of the items on those ‘signs you’re a 90s kid’ lists that we love to read (why yes, I can rap the whole Fresh Prince intro and yes, please do come round and see my Beanie Baby collection sometime), we are now people who actually count in these types of surveys and we’ve never really had to experience the concept of paying for news.
The World Wide Web was no late bloomer, it grew up way too quickly for newspapers to realise what to do with it and so most of them gave their contents away for free online whilst at the same time asking people to pay for the physical copy. And we loved that it was free, of course we did, who doesn’t love free stuff? When I see promotions people handing out new drinks in the street I’m like a moth to a flame, I need to get that drink even though the chances are it will taste like cats’ wee and will swiftly be moved off the shop shelves in a few months’ time. I’ll take it because it’s free.
But the problem is that newspapers, especially the big ones, need to send journalists to faraway places to ask important people important questions, and to ask regular people important questions as well, and they kind of need money to be able to do that. And with people not buying papers but accessing the news online instead, things are becoming a little financially tight. Although digital advertising revenue is increasing, newspapers still don’t know exactly how to use digital advertising to their advantage and therefore some of them are asking people to pay for the news.
Some newspapers, such as The Times of London, have a hard paywall model. You can only access the first couple of paragraphs of a story and then it cuts off completely, you never do get to find out if Obama said that thing in that speech (he probably did) or if your favourite contestant left your favourite reality show last night (they probably did). It leaves you in suspense in the hope that you’ll fork out that extra money.
Then there are the more generous newspapers who give you a little taster. The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald all let you access a certain number of articles for free each month before they cut you off.
Of course, both of these are perfectly acceptable models; we understand the logic behind them, that if we want these journalists working 9-5 getting first hand news then we have to pay them and yes we want our newspapers to survive, of course we do. But how many of us actually pay for the content? It’s a genuine question, I’m interested. We’re young women (and men), we’re smart and we want to stay informed but we live in a time where money’s tight and a day doesn’t go by without a stony faced newsreader saying the word ‘recession’ so how many of us take the perfectly legal option of hopping on over to one of the free newspaper websites instead?
We’re happy to spend money on technology but is the news something we’re willing to pay for? Does it depend on the publication? Or do we reckon that if all newspapers start charging, we’ll just find it for free somewhere else on the internet? Or will the cool kids all start ironically buying physical newspapers and that will be how the newspaper industry stays afloat?
Featured image by the author