Paying for Digital Ink

The ink-stained wretches must be paid. The shift of classified ads to craigslist and the lower revenues of online advertising make a free online newspaper unsustainable with the level of reporting I demand. I skim four papers each day: the Tulsa World, the New York Times, and USA Today each morning on the iPad and the print edition of Bartlesville’s Examiner-Enterprise in the evening. My morning reads have been free for several years, but that came to an end this month.

New York Times

The Gray Lady went behind a paywall this week. She wants $260 per year for iPad and website access or $450 per year for full digital access. That’s way too high for the use I make of the paper, and I wasn’t tempted by their half-off price for the first half-year to registered online users like me. And they only allow you to view 20 articles per month for free on their website.

But there are still decent workarounds. They give you free access to selected top stories on their iPad app. And they still offer Twitter feeds for their sections – and you can read articles through those tweets for free. So I subsribed to the nytimestech twitter feed on my iPad’s Flipboard app. So I still have free access…for now.

USA Today & The Daily

USA Today has very lightweight stories, but I do skim them on the iPad after I’ve exhausted the few I can see on the New York Times workarounds and the wire stories in the Tulsa World. But if USA Today ever costs me money, I’ll drop it. Similarly, I took advantage of two free weeks of the new The Daily newspaper on the iPad, but it was as lightweight as USA Today and far more cumbersome to browse.

Tulsa World

For years I subscribed to the daily print edition of this decent regional paper, later switching to the Thursday through Sunday Weekender package. But once I could view the stories easily online at tulsaworld.com and, even better, with mobile.tulsaworld.com on my iPad and iPhone, I cancelled the subscription. No more papers to recycle or throw away, no more ink-stained hands, just a quick scan of headlines and a dive into what interested me. They have a fancy e-edition replica with fancy navigation, but I prefer the quick links and text of their mobile website.

But they’ve now switched to a parsimonious 10 free online articles per month, and I read their paper far more than the New York Times. The Tulsa World has a variety of new digital subscription plans. Notably the only digital plan cheaper than a printed-paper-with-online-access plan is subscribing to the daily edition on a Kindle device (not a Kindle app on an iPhone or iPad, etc.) for $9/month. I tried it out for a few days via their 14-day free trial, but the daily Kindle edition wasn’t published by my morning reading time of 6:10 a.m. and browsing through stories was slow, although not as cumbersome as I had feared.

I could have paid $12/month for the Sunday print edition and received full digital access with that, but I did not want to waste more paper, gas, and ink on a huge Sunday paper I would skim and then toss. So I bit the bullet and paid for a year of full digital access for $15/month or $180 for the year. I presume the cheapest full-digital-only plan costs 25% more than full-digital-with-a-Sunday-printed-paper because they are trying to preserve their print technology and delivery infrastructure’s economies of scale. But paying more for less is annoying.

Examiner-Enterprise

The little local Examiner-Enterprise is similarly weighted toward its print option, making you pay extra for digital access and pay more for digital-only than for a printed paper. But it is so clueless that its webpage has only one subscription ad buried in its outdated design. Worse, the ad just gives you a form to print out, fill in by hand, and send in by snail mail…or you can telephone them. Welcome to the 20th century!

So I still get a printed Examiner-Enterprise each day (albeit there is no Saturday paper) and paid extra for access to their digital edition. I only use that option for two things. First, when I stop the paper for a vacation I no longer ask them to send me an accumulated stack of papers, instead browsing the digital replicas. Second, I sometimes capture the digital version of a story for my archives rather than clipping the printed page.

There are only two reasons I still get the E-E in print form. First, an elderly neighbor asked me to save up the papers each week and give them to her so she can scan the obituaries and old stories. Second, their website is terrible and their e-editions too cumbersome. When those reasons go away, I’ll pay extra if needed to get rid of the print version – I’d much rather skim news stories on the iPad, just as I’d rather read books on my Kindle.

I hope each of these newspapers survives the transition to the digital world, but I do wish they would make the transition easier and less punitive. Reading a newspaper is as dated as dialing a phone and taping a show.

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife, Wendy, and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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