I am not here to bite the hand that feeds me..and truth told, the honorarium that I receive for holding forth here would not feed a ferret for a month. The Tribune is kind to host me. They ask little, and have taught me much about blogging. I never presume that I am a writer. I like to write. My skill is commensurate with my pay. Steve says "reading is for losers" but I like to think he is teasing. I love to read.
I also love my newspapers. They allow me unfettered time wasting and info surfing. I have no place to file the treasures I mine from the pages, but I believe in informing myself. I do not want to live in an imaginary bubble. I am also willing to be entertained, awed and guided by writers of talent, and investigators who dig deeper and harder than I have the skills for. I try to swing between views from the left to views of the right. Newspapers bring us the broadest world to cherry pick from. We just have to partake.
I realize how frustrating it is for the Tribune to service their readers- the ones who love the ink, and the ones that have migrated to digital delivery. I also know how difficult it is to see all of the Trib's work of investigating, writing, editing, fact checking migrate to aggregators. The staffing has been cut to the bone, and the news business is still not generating enough profit. I completely accept that digital content will soon be disappearing behind pay walls. The Sun Times has had its calling center contact me to inquire as to whether I wish to add the digital version for a reasonable fee. I am content with my daily delivery. The New York Times tempts me with its digital edition, and they really count the clicks. I have 5 more this month. Their headlines, dropped into my twitter feed every morning, make my finger twitch; I am often longing for details. I presume they select their most alluring stories to tempt us....not necessarily the most important. So I resist. I only receive the NTY on Sunday, and my interest is in the most pedestrian features: weddings and engagements, the ethics advice questions, medical diagnosis quizzes, Modern Love monologues. If I read it compulsively, it would last me all week. I am frustrated with it, because they have a "for the people" editorial bent, which clashes with the ads for million dollar jewelry and couture clothing. In New York City, everyday people may not have the time or money to read the NYT daily. I am clearly not a target geographically or financially.
The Tribune is launching Printers Row, a literary journal with digital and paper components. I love to read. I love Julia Keller, Rick Kogan-both of whom they tout as contributors. Julia will be writing a 6 part serial, starting with the first issue, Feb 26. There will be book discussions, exclusive interviews..access to Printers Row events. It is all good stuff.
The sad thing is that it is good stuff that we used to get for free, tucked into the paper.
The editor was candid: the literary stuff costs money, and they do not get enough ad revenue to justify assigning resources. So their first experiment in monetization is rather brilliant, because they target an audience that is passionate and focused.
The cost is high: $99 a year.
The "exclusive" nature of this group is hit hard in the ads: "special access, exclusive content, membership program, members-only discussions, behind-the-scenes coverage" are ballyhooed.
I am on the fence.
I believe in paying for content. I admire the Trib's strategy: perhaps readers are passionate enough to pay. It is a clever way to test the waters for other monetization models.
What other subject areas could be eliminated and repackaged?
Would sports nuts pay $100 bucks a year for Locker Room, a sports journal? They could get 56 issues of Sports Illustrated for $39 bucks, but that is a national focus....They would, but since sports is so timely, the daily delivery would be key. This is a good model for digital content.
Would cooks and crafters pay $100 a year for At Home Journal? Maybe, but this would have to be glossy and slick. No digital potential.
Could the Business section be reconstituted a la Crain's for separate purchase? The Movers and Shakers in town love to see their accomplishments heralded. (Though they do not much like to see their difficulties highlighted) Crain's has had difficulty expanding past pamphlet stage, even when the themed issues like "100 best lawyers" scream for ad dollars. I'm not sure Chicago could support another biz journal. But it would be a business expense for most companies, so this is a possibility. The daily fluctuations of the business world make this apropos for digital delivery, as well as a monthly "best of" where faces, galas, charitable events could be highlighted. It's not enough to be rich. People have to know you are rich. I think this is worth exploring.
You get what I mean. The Tribune is testing the waters with this notion. How it goes will determine how the ink version of the paper will look. So far, news, sports and obituaries seem safe. For how long, who knows?
But I wish the Printers Row all the best. I have a month to decide if I will be a charter subscriber to this exclusive membership only world. There is a saying, "I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member." But when the Books section evaporates, I will miss it. The New York Times Book Review on Sunday is so clubby. But it's free. for now.
"You get what you pay for" is likely truer than ever with media. OK- Trib....I'm in.