The Price We Pay To Stay Informed
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Josh at
joshlee008@gmail.com
Josh Lee is an up and coming young writer and semi-professional photographer, born in Tokyo, but raised in Honolulu, currently a senior attending Kalani High School. After graduation, Lee will moving to Seattle, Washington to attend college at Cornish College of the Arts. He looks forward to filling his future with work in all three of his areas of interest: writing, photography, and graphic design, hoping to, one day, edit his own lifestyle magazine, on par with Vanity Fair or the New Yorker. As a writer, Lee is never one to hold his tongue, believing that writers should never try to sugar coat or implement damage control. Life isn't fiction -- the writing about it shouldn't be either. In his spare time, Lee enjoys running around town with his camera, shooting for fun by himself or with friends. Lee is also currently working on two novels, one of which deals with politics in an 'unusual way'.
            People used to ask me why I would read my news online when I could easily sit down with a newspaper.
            I used to tell them that it was so much more convenient to read it on my iPhone. I could read it where I wanted to, when I wanted to. And unlike the printed edition, my news wasnít static. My news would update as late breaking developments became available. I didnít see the printed papers updating themselves every hour. If that wasnít enough, online news was free.
            But starting on March 28, thatís all going to change Ė in a very big and expensive way.
            Oh yes. On March 28, 2011, the New York Times will lead the way, beginning the first of its kind, a digital subscription policy to its content. No longer will you be able to roam free through the millions of articles published in the Times online and through your smartphone. No longer will you be able to stay informed for free.
            Subscriptions will start at fifteen dollars a month for complete access from your smartphone app and a desktop browser, and go up to thirty-five for complete digital access from your tablet, smartphone, and computer (Appleís iPad is an example of a tablet). If youíre a current subscriber of the printed edition, youíll have full, unrestricted access at no additional cost.
            Now, while Iím not happy about having to pay $180 a year for online news, Iím willing to. But itís going to be different for other readers. With free access and the convenience of an app on your phone, it was easy for people to get their news fix on the go Ė while waiting for the bus, while waiting in line at Starbucks, you name it. But now, with access being both limited and confusing (access via Google is free for the first five visits, access via social networking giants, Facebook and Twitter is also free, though through the latter two will also be restricted in some way), those who read lightly to pass time will likely look elsewhere for their downtime reading.
            While Iím quite frustrated and more than a little upset at the Times for making this jump to a pay-as-you-read subscription model, I understand the motives and financial necessity of it.
            Publishing is a dying art. Itís on the out. Some will refute that claim, but when we look at the bigger picture, the amount of physical content we consume (newspapers, printed books, etc.) has gone down significantly in the last four years.
            When Apple Inc. introduced the world to its revolutionary iPhone at the MacWorld Expo in January of 2007, Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs took to the stage to show off the key features of the companyís hit gadget Ė one of which was the worldís first desktop-class web browser on a mobile phone.
In fact, during the live demo, the first website that Jobs navigated to was that of the New York Times. The crowd erupted in applause as Jobs navigated the site with a touch of his finger, zooming in on photos and showcasing the iPhoneís inertial scrolling. And unlike other browsers of the time, what you saw on iPhone was what you would see on any desktop browser.
            Over the next year, as the iPhone grew in popularity, so did its competitors who were also building desktop-class web browsers into their smart phones. It wouldnít be long before Apple introduced the iPhone 3G, the second iteration of the iPhone, and their application hub, the App Store. It came as no surprise that the New York Times was again leading the way as one of the first apps on the App Store.
            In January of 2010, only three years after Apple announced the iPhone, Steve Jobs again took to the stage to announce the companyís ďmagical and revolutionaryĒ iPad tablet. Needless to say, the iPad was a smashing success Ė and again, the New York Times was one of the first iPad apps available.
            But the iPad in its hardware didnít change the market. It was the software and the implementation of features that really made it a hit. Along with the iPad, Apple announced its now-popular iBooks app. With the iBooks app running on your iPhone or iPad, your device instantly became a full-fledged e-reader. And with some of the worldís largest publishersí (Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Shuster, MacMillan, and Hachette at launch) full catalogue of books right in the palm of your hand, why would you ever want to run to Barnes and Noble to buy a book when you could just download it onto your tablet and read it anywhere you had your tablet and anywhere you had your phone?
            Now, the iBooks store and app arenít the only e-reader store and vehicle on the market. Amazon quickly fired back with the launch of their Kindle store and app for phones and tablets. Barnes and Noble launched the Nook store and app. And in addition to these apps for phones, tablets, and computers, Amazon and Barnes and Noble made dedicated e-readers of their own. Amazonís famed Kindle family of e-readers has been a runaway success for both Amazon and the e-book industry.
            And as these devices and services became available to everyone that had an iPhone, iPad, Kindle, and desktop computer, the printed page became more and more obsolete.
            Books and printed newspapers began to look like something right out of the Stone Age. The people who once asked me why I read all my news online were now asking me why I still carried books. Why, they asked, would I carry around two or three books when I could get all of it on my iPhone? Why would I waste space in carry-on bag when I could have all of it in my pocket?
             Itís now March of 2011. The countdown to paid content has begun. And like everything else in human nature, when monkey sees, monkey does.
            Remember when your check luggage was free? You could check ten bags in as long as they all came in under the weight limit? That was nice, wasnít it?
            Then, as fuel prices began to rise and airlines became strapped for cash, one brave American Airlines began charging passengers for checked baggage. People revolted Ė some boycotted American, flying United and Delta instead. Others paid and grumbled about it later.
            But soon, United and Delta too were charging the fifteen or so per checked bag and the baggage charge, though still a sore spot for some, became accepted as a practice. Itís normal now to have to pay for every bag you check with the airline.
            The same is going to happen with the online news subscription model. It wouldnít surprise me in the least if months down the line; the other big news publications began subscription policies. The Wall Street Journal will have a subscription policy; the Associated Press will have a subscription policy. Bloomberg will have a subscription policy. Everyone will have a subscription policy and weíll all pay it.
            But unlike baggage fees, this isnít a one-time price. This isnít fifteen dollars one-way and fifteen the other. This is fifteen dollars every four weeks Ė thatís $195 per year.
            And thatís assuming that weíre only paying for one subscription. What if we wish to read news from the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Wall Street Journal? If each publication charges fifteen dollars monthly, (at the low end), thatís going to be near $600 annually (including tax).
            Itís ludicrous, ridiculous, stupid, unbelievable, and everything else weíre going to call it. But itís the price weíre going to pay to stay informed.
            I still plan to get all my news from the internet Ė Iíll still visit the New York Times and pour through the hundreds of articles that are published because itís important to me. Itís important enough that Iím willing to pay fifteen dollars a month for access to news.
I donít plan to let their money making scheme keep me from being informed.
Josh Lee
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