HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Here’s how the BBC, disrupted by technology and new habits, is thinking about its future
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Dec. 11, 2009, 10:36 a.m.

E&P and the emotional commitment of a subscription

I heard the news about Editor & Publisher closing as I hear many things these days — through Twitter. Patrick Thornton (jiconoclast) tweeted: “Does anything better symbolize the state of print media right now than the closure of E&P? Yes things are very bad.” At first, I hoped his tweet didn’t mean what I knew it meant. But a quick search of Twitter yielded proof. Yes, E&P had told its staff Thursday that it was shutting down operations.

This shook me even more than when Gourmet announced its closure a while back. (I found out about that on Twitter, too.)

I read E&P almost religiously in my early years as a journalist, devouring it the moment it arrived in my mailbox. The magazine had a bright purple cover back then. As time went on, I didn’t renew my subscription. I’m not sure why.

I enjoyed E&P’s articles. I appreciated the reporting. In fact, in the last few years, its web site became one of regular online haunts to find out what’s going on in the news business. Sometimes, I’d head to the E&P web page myself, but more often I’d be drawn there by a well-worded tweet or a blog post from someone whose opinion I valued.

Now, I have no information about why E&P shut down, but I’d assume lack of ad revenues or subscriptions had something to do with it. So perhaps I was part of the problem. Or at least me and the many others like me who appreciated E&P’s content but didn’t buy it. Or maybe how I read E&P was just a sign of the times, part of this changing way we consume the news, in small bits throughout the day triggered by smart people we follow online.

That got me thinking. Why didn’t I pay for E&P while it was still here? Why didn’t I subscribe? Would I have subscribed online if they offered it?

The truth is, for me, not subscribing — either in print or online — has little to do with money. It’s about commitment. And I think that’s the problem many news organizations are facing as they try to bring their products online.

In the old days, I paid for E&P because if I didn’t, I’d have no idea what was going on in the industry. I wasn’t paying for news; I was paying for the chance to be in the know in my field.

Things changed with the web. Now, if I choose one magazine to subscribe to out of myriad sources, it feels like I’m limiting my options in a way. I don’t want to commit to one publication, one source, one newspaper, one magazine. Why? Because the publication has become less important than the news itself. I want to be free to surf, reading dozens of different newspapers, blogs or magazines that I may visit just once or twice. I enjoy the synchronicity of happening upon a publication I have never heard of and will probably never visit again.

Yes, I realize that even if I subscribe to one publication, I can still read others. But the act of subscribing is picking one over the others. If you’re a runner, you have a choice of two major magazines: Runner’s World or Running Times. By picking one, you’re choosing not to pick the other. You might glance at the other once in a while, but you probably don’t read them both cover to cover.

I think many of us feel that if we pay for a publication, we expect it to become one of our primary news sources — not just one of dozens of places where we get news. I may feel a bit cheated if I end up getting more of my news elsewhere. I may feel cheated if I subscribe but forget to check the site every day, going instead only when a Facebook friend sends me a link.

In a sense, it’s the dilemma with the makings of a country song: If I subscribe, I feel like I have to dance with the one who brung me — when I really want to play the field.

So maybe at some level I didn’t subscribe to E&P in print because I knew if I headed online, I’d get lots of E&P-like news. Sure, some of it would start with E&P’s reporting, with commentary added by bloggers. Some of it would be from other sources. I was interested in getting as much news and information as I could about the journalism industry. I wasn’t interested in one particular brand.

So what is the answer to that? To me it always comes back to the question: What are you really paying for? I’d gladly pay for online information, a small monthly fee like I pay for my television viewing, a subscription to the whole web. What I don’t want to do is pay for one brand, one publication. I want to be free to follow the news.

A good example of what I mean is Jim Romenesko’s blog at Poynter Online. I read it almost every day. It’s in my RSS reader — but I don’t usually get to it from there. I don’t need to. I remember to check it. I remember to check it because I won’t just find E&P stories there — as great as they were — but I’ll find a whole lot more. It’s like the good ol’ days, when E&P was selling me the chance to be in the know in my field. And that, honestly, I would pay for.

POSTED     Dec. 11, 2009, 10:36 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Here’s how the BBC, disrupted by technology and new habits, is thinking about its future
The British broadcaster released a new report looking at the future of news as it looks toward its royal charter renewal in 2017.
At Datalore, data plus storytelling means empathy, humor, and games
At the MIT Media Lab, teams of designers, developers and storytellers pulled stories from eight different data sets.
Tied up at home? Have some Nieman Lab #BlizzardReads
Many of our readers on the East Coast are cooped up in their homes. To rescue them from boredom, here are a few recent Nieman Lab stories you may have missed.
What to read next
2588
tweets
Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk
The team that runs the Times’ Twitter accounts looked back on what they learned — what worked, what didn’t — from running @NYTimes in 2014.
728From explainers to sounds that make you go “Whoa!”: The 4 types of audio that people share
How can public radio make audio that breaks big on social media? A NPR experiment identified what makes a piece of audio go viral.
705Q&A: Amy O’Leary on eight years of navigating digital culture change at The New York Times
“In 2007, as digital people, we were expected to be 100 percent deferent to all traditional processes. We weren’t to bother reporters or encourage them to operate differently at all, because what they were doing was the very core of our journalism.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Las Vegas Sun
National Review
PBS NewsHour
Fox News
Newsmax
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Zonie Report
Fwix
Dallas Morning News
San Diego News Network
The Sunlight Foundation
The Batavian