Technical Difficulties

Cheaper Than Zero

Writing in today’s Comment is Free, Tim Watkin ponders the shift in readership from newsprint to web.

By reading this article online, are you complicit in the slow death of printed newspapers and magazines? …For all of us on CiF, it’s surely a question we should be wrestling with… I’m sure many of you, like me, still buy print. But if you and I are spending more and more time on sites such as this instead of buying other newspapers and magazines where we live, we’ve got our hands on the knife. Haven’t we?

Setting aside Watkin’s urge to feel and inflict guilt - and the fact his article isn’t available in the Guardian’s print edition - I’m reminded of a recent telephone exchange on much the same subject. A few weeks ago I received a call from a very polite woman who was trying, heroically, to sell me a subscription to a certain broadsheet newspaper. It went something like this:

“And, Mr Thompson, we’re now offering a 60% discount.”

[ Expectant pause. ]

“Hm. But I read the papers online, for free. I haven’t bought a printed newspaper in months.”

“Yes, but we’re offering 60% off…”

“Yes, 60% is a big discount, I see that. But I’m currently paying nothing. What’s 60% off nothing?”

“Um… But not all of our content is available online.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No, not at all, there are crosswords… and, er, supplements…”

[ Pause. ]

“I don’t do crosswords and the supplements are, well, just packing material. When I used to buy newspapers, the supplements were always the first things to go in the bin. Why should I start paying for something I don’t even unwrap and immediately throw away?”

[ Long pause. ]

“Oh. Well, er… thank you for your time, Mr Thompson…”