While newspapers have certainly been dying for a long time, I officially called their time of death as 8:25 AM this morning.
For the past week or two, I've been receiving mysterious phone calls from Missouri. The few times I picked up, no one was on the line.
Today, I finally got someone on the line. "Hi, we're calling for the San Jose Mercury News!" (Presumably, the Merc is nearshoring their telemarketing to the low-cost nation of Missouri)
He started by offering me the Sunday paper for an entire year for $10.
I politely declined.
He then pointed out that they had a 100% money-back guarantee. "At any time, even a year from now, you can call and get all of that money back."
Again, I politely declined. "I'm sorry, but the paper just isn't part of my life anymore." This is 100% true. I can't remember the last time I read one outside of when I was at a conference or waiting in a VC fund or law firm's lobby.
None of this surprised me that much. Then came this offer, which I had never received before. "In addition to the 100% money-back guarantee, with your subscription, we'll also give you a $10 gift certificate to Starbucks or Lowes. And you can keep it, even if you ask for your money back later."
In other words, the newspapers are at the point where they're willing to pay people to subscribe.
Shaken, I said, "I'm sorry, but I wouldn't feel good taking advantage of the paper in that way."
"Well sir," said the cheerful telemarketer, "We sure hope you change your mind and take advantage of us in the future." (Mental note: Definitely outsource telemarketing to Missouri--they're incredibly polite and upbeat. Practically Canadian.)
After hanging up, I felt a strange sadness. While I haven't read a newspaper in years, I still remember when getting and reading the morning paper was the main way that I learned about the world. It was the only way I heard about world events, or could see the box scores from last night's game.
Old folks like me still recognize the meaning of "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" or "Stop the presses!"
My kids have never seen a newspaper. The entire concept would seem strange to them, like television programs that aren't available on-demand, or on a tablet computer.
It's progress. It's more efficient. It's inevitable. Yet it's still sad.