Going Digital-Only: Why I decided to cancel my print newspaper subscription after 40 years.

Author:Gallagher, Tim
Position:Business of news

Did you feel a supernatural chill on Jan. 10, 2019? Did the earth split open near you on the second Thursday of the first month of the year 2019 A.D.? I wouldn't be surprised. That is the day that I, Timothy Joseph Gallagher, being of sound mind and body, and who has had a newspaper delivered each morning and/or afternoon for approximately 40 years, cancelled his print newspaper subscription.

The day has been on my mind for more than a year, but I could not bring myself to "stop the paper" no matter what changes they made. They reduced the web width again. They combined sections. They went to an outside printing facility so evening sports scores and council meetings were reported a day late. The carrier could not correctly calculate my vacation stop. And then--just as I was tiptoeing to the end of the plank--they pushed me. The cost for the print subscription rose to just under 50 bucks per month. Nearly double what I had been paying.

Perhaps the biggest factor, however, was the habit I developed of reading tomorrow's newspaper on my tablet tonight. When I called to cancel--and spoke to the customer service desk halfway around the world--my monthly bill for a digital-only subscription dropped to $6.99.I began life as a digital-only subscriber to my local paper (a Southern California regional paper) and a national paper.

I waited. There were some withdrawal symptoms. The carrier even mistakenly dropped off the paper one day. And then about a week later, I was having lunch with a man who works for one of the world's largest digital advertising wholesalers. He told me just how sophisticated this world of digital content and advertising is becoming.

His colleagues got into a cab in Midtown. In bumper to bumper traffic, they noticed the digital ad sign on the cab in front of them in traffic was serving ads and news content specifically tailored to them. A company had figured out how to track their phones (which track their interests) and serve them content directly in their viewing space while they were in a slow-moving vehicle in one of the world's largest cities.

Um, can your newspaper do that?

Does your newspaper have to do that in order to survive? Only if you do it well.

The print newspaper edition is on palliative care. The model has changed for good. There is some excellent research about what happens when a newspaper drops print subscriptions. And there is always Paul Gillin's Newspaper Death Watch, the black humor blog...

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