Saturday, July 14, 2012

RIP, Newspapers

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.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I still read the paper. I subscribe to it and have been very happy. Calling RIP on things is trite, yet I understand your point, just not the motivation. Obviously people are going to go with what's cheap or free. You can read the Mercury News on their website, but you can't fold it up and take it with you with such ease as only paper can do.

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Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm surprised that you're surprised that an advertising business would pay for eyeballs. Remember, you are not the newspaper's customer, and you never were. You were and are its product -- a product that it can no longer reliably deliver to advertisers, so it's dying.

-MJ

Chris said...

MJ,

I'm surprised that an advertising business that's lost its main revenue stream to Craigslist would bribe me to be a subscriber.

Anonymous said...

Chris -

What's their alternative? They desperately need eyeballs to sell to whatever remaining advertisers they have.

Actually, their true asset isn't content or ad sales -- it's logistics. Only they have the network to drop a couple of ounces of paper on your doorstep every day for less than the post office.

- Matt

Chris said...

Matt,

I often tell people about how content is just the stuff that fills the holes between advertisements.

I think that the concept of newspapers as logistics companies is interesting...we saw that work well for people distributing music CDs back in the 1990s.