The Price We're Paying To Stay Informed
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            A few months ago I wrote about how the digital age is impacting the publishing industry. My article revolved around the New York Times beginning a subscription-or-nothing policy to their online news portal. Itís been a few months and a lot has changed since then. The majority of the big publications are still accessible online for no charge. But slowly more and more of them are dipping their toes into the waters of digital subscriptions.

             So what changed since my first article? Well, it wouldnít be an overstatement to say that everything has changed Ė everything is changing. The publishing industry is changing. I donít have official data from any of the publications, or market research firms, but from the majority of people Iíve spoken to on the subject, the conclusion is clear. People are ditching the print subscriptions and moving over to the digital editions.

            That means that publications are losing out on the revenue that subscriptions bring in. Sure, a good chunk of a publicationís profit still comes from ad sales, but the subscription, as a source of income, shouldnít be overlooked.

            As this transition was happening, the New York Times, for example, was still offering up their services for free online. In short, they were losing money. The New York Times was established in 1851. Back then, of course, there was no internet or websites or any such thing. It would be more than a hundred years before the internet is born. It remains one of the most read newspapers in the United States, although since 1990, weekday circulations have fallen to below one million papers sold per day. The NYTimes website, on the other hand, is constantly receiving more traffic, with currently over thirty million unique viewers per month.

            Taking that into account, I can only say that itís fair for publications to require digital based subscriptions. In my original article, I compared the digital subscription fee to the baggage fees that airlines have been charging in recent years. The difference between paying a subscription to a newspaper and paying a baggage fee to an airline, however, is that, again, some publications needs the revenue from subscriptions to stay in business. Airlines, on the other hand, charge exorbitant rates for your ticket and then (adding insult to injury) add the baggage fee on top of that. Itís not exactly a fair comparison.

Iíve spoken to a few iPad and tablet owners who, one year ago, wouldnít even have considered reading their news online. Then somewhere along the line, someone downloaded an app for them and showed them how to use it and all of a sudden the print versions were in the recycle bin and the iPad was on the table. Sure, thatís not everyone, but there are some very valid reasons that people made the switch.

Many of the ďconvertsĒ I spoke to liked the portability. When Apple says that you can carry an entire bookstore in your bag, thatís no exaggeration. Said converts like the ability to carry their iPad or Kindle as they roam the globe. A few months ago when I was on the mainland traveling from city to city on airplanes, I did a casual survey of the passengers onboard. A typical 767 seats about 244 people. Of that Iíd say about sixty percent of the passengers had an iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or some such gadget out. Of that sixty percent, Iíd say at least fifty percent were reading something (a book, a newspaper, magazine, etc.)

I myself had my iPhone out and was going between reading e-books that Iíd downloaded and reading drafts of articles that Iíd synced up from my computer. The portability is there. We all know how small airplane seats are. How awful would it be if the guy next to you were trying to read a section of the New York Times? Constantly trying to flip pages and find articles all while trying not to invade your space. With an iPhone or iPad, everything is compressed into something about the size of a magazine. The worst thing you have to worry about is whether the screen brightness is bothering the people next to or behind you. And thatís easily adjustable.

           
            Others that I spoke with liked the ability to reformat content. Iíve heard from many people that they made the switch from paper to digital because most of the magazines and newspapers that have apps and or are available online allow readers to toggle font sizes. For those with impaired vision, it offers the ability to view the news in anything from (about the equivalent of) size eight to size seventy-two. Printed books often feature text that isnít friendly to some eyes. With the e-reader apps available on the iPad (Amazonís ďKindleĒ app, Barnes and Nobleís ďNookĒ app, and Appleís own ďiBooksĒ app), you tap an icon and manipulate the font to any size you want. Even for people without visual impairments, the ability to bump up the font size is great if youíre feeling tired and donít want to strain your eyes. I certainly like to bump up the font size once in a while. And then, of course, thereís the ability to amp up the brightness for those times when the ambient lighting just isnít sufficient for reading. Sure, that strains your eyes too, but it works in a pinch Ė just donít stare at a bright screen in a dark environment for too long and always be considerate of those around you.

There are just as many reasons for making the switch, as there are not to. I personally like having both mediums available. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Times change and weíre all kind of forced to transition. Weíre making the same jump right now in the automobile industry. Electric cars and hybrids are no longer for those who have to be on the bleeding edge Ė just like you donít have to be a tech nerd to buy, understand, and love an iPad. Ordinary people are adopting these technologies and are love them.

Online magazines and newspapers are where we are headed, like it or not. There are definite benefits to publishing online as opposed to running papers every morning and evening.  Pushing stories out as they break requires a few clicks and in the next second itís sent out to every computer, every smart phone, every tablet in the world to everyone thatís subscribed to that newspaper. Weather can be updated at the top and bottom of the hour Ė some even feed up to the minute forecasts. Itís great. I get traffic alerts on my phone through one of my news apps if the interstate is constipated because of an accident.

            So I guess Iím playing the devilís advocate here. On one hand, it can be quite an investment to hold multiple subscriptions. I subscribe to a few newspapers and magazines on my iPad and the costs do rack up. On the other hand, itís cheaper and more environmentally friendly to subscribe to the digital editions. Oftentimes you get more features and a lot more flexibility when it comes to the presentation and timeliness of content. I still enjoy holding a printed page in my hand and there are times when a digital edition just wonít do. But as we evolve and technology grows in its capabilities, I think we could very soon enter the digital-only era.

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