Posted by: patenttranslator | January 24, 2012

Will The New York Times Survive The Year 2020 As The Newspaper of Record?

Like many other newspapers these days, The New York Times is spying on people who read The New York Times online. The newspaper makes people register first and then cuts them off and shows them this screen if they have read more than 20 articles per month because it is trying to figure out how to make them pay for reading the paper online. Given the decrease in the number of people like me who read what on the blogosphere is referred to as “dead tree media”, it all makes sense …. sort of.

Although access to most newspapers is free on the Internet, Wall Street Journal and some other publications charge a fee to access the newspaper for what is now called digital subscription. Other newspapers, and also magazines like The New Yorker, also offer digital subscriptions for access not only from a computer, but also through a tablet or a smart phone.

However, the Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker have never been The Newspaper (or The Weekly Magazine) of Record. They consciously cater to a certain kind of reader only – investors and mostly Republicans in the case of Wall Street Journal, and mostly snobs who live in or near New York in the case of The New Yorker.

The New York Times, for all its faults, probably still is The Newspaper of Record. But will it remain what it has been for many decades when it keeps raising prices – it used to cost a dollar and now it costs 2 dollars on newsstands – while trying to limit access to people who are not willing to pay for reading it online?

I started reading New York Times just after graduation from university with a degree in Japanese and English when I found my first job as a translator of news from various news agencies for the Czech (back then Czechoslovak) News Agency (CTK) in Prague in 1980.

Because I needed to be well informed about the decadent West, it was sort of a part of my job to read New York Times, Newsweek, Der Spiegel and other publications in addition to translation of breaking news from major news agencies such as Reuters, Agence France Presse, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and of course TASS – The Soviet News Agency of Record – which were back then received by enormous and complex short wave antennas on the roof of the building and then printed by huge and noisy electro-mechanical teletype printers.

I did not read New York Times at all when I lived in West Germany in 1981 and 1982. I put English and Japanese on the back burner as I tried to function as much in German as possible, which included reading magazines like Der Spiegel and Stern in German.

After I moved to Japan in 1985, I still did not read New York Times because I could buy it only in one store near Ginza and I did not get there very often. The only English language newspapers that were available in Tokyo at vending machines back then were The Japan Times and USA Today. I am guessing that they decided to sell USA Today instead of New York Times because the articles were relatively short and they were written in relatively simple English.

But shortly after I moved back to San Francisco, I started subscribing to New York Times, partly because there were not that many interesting articles in the San Francisco Chronicle even back then. As I try to read the Chronicle online every now and then, I can see that the situation is much worse now.

There was an interesting twist to having a subscription to New York Times in San Francisco before the age of Internet: you could actually read tomorrow’s paper today because the morning edition of New York Times  was delivered to my apartment’s porch in San Francisco around 10 PM the day before it was in fact published. A lot of San Francisco night owls got a subscription to New York Times partly for this reason, including several friends of mine.

People did not realize 30 or 20 years ago that what was printed in the paper today was in fact yesterday’s news, but they sure realize it now. I assume that most people who still read a real newspaper with their morning coffee as I do every day have already read about most of the subjects that are covered in the paper on blogs and other venues on the Internet because just like me, they check their e-mail first thing in the morning.

The news that is printed in the newspaper these days is no longer new and as Mick Jagger sang already in 1967: “Who wants yesterday’s paper, who wants yesterday’s girl …. nobody in the world!” Fewer and fewer people insist on reading a newspaper that they can actually touch with their hands every day. My kids, who are in their early twenties, don’t read New York Times or anything else from the “dead tree media”. They get their information from the Internet through their Macs and iPhones, and so do their friends. This is one reason why newspapers like New York Times and Washington Post keep increasing their prices, which in turn means that there will be fewer and fewer subscribers.

I only have New York Times delivered on Sundays now, along with Washington Post which lands with a thud in front of my porch every day. There is not really that much difference between the two newspapers, so I go for the cheaper one which is more relevant to me because I live in Virginia.

When Andrei Amalrik wrote in 1970 his famous essay titled “Will The Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?”, he missed the date of the actual demise of the former mighty superpower by only 7 years. I certainly hope that the New York Times will survive the year 2020. After 32 years of reading it most of the time in most of the countries where I lived, I got kind of used to it. But I don’t think that it will be The Paper of Record by then.

I think that fewer and fewer people will be reading news on paper as mostly the older generation will still be insisting on such an extravagance because the paper will by then cost at least 3 dollars Monday through Saturday and 10 dollars on Sundays.

In 1982 when the Lionel Richie’s song from the video below was new, a phone call from a booth in San Francisco cost a nickel, buses and trains cost 60 cents, and a monthly pass which used to be called FastPass cost 24 dollars. Since the cable car fare climbed half way to the stars in 2005 when it was raised to 5 dollars and you can’t use your monthly pass on cable cars any more, only tourists ride them now.

I used to hop on the cable car on Powell and Market when I was coming back from work back then and my FastPass was good on it. There was a pizza joint in front of the cable car turnaround where you could get a huge slice of cheese pizza for one dollar. There was a Chinese restaurant, one of those second story restaurants on Market Street, where office workers could get a pretty good lunch for 3 dollars.

I have not been back there in more than 10 years, but I am sure that all of those places that used to charge these kinds of prices are gone now.

I doubt that New York Times will still be the newspaper of record by 2020. I think that their strategy is all wrong, although I don’t know what kind of strategy they should be using. For one thing, you can easily continue reading it online even after you have read 23 articles per month by switching to another browser, or if you read it on your laptop or tablet. If I could figure it out, everybody else will too.

And if they decide to spy on people who read it with different browsers and on laptops and tablets, or try to use the Wall Street Journal approach, most people will just stop reading it altogether and The New Yorker Magazine will have a higher circulation than The New York Times.


  1. Nice.


  2. All true, sadly. The Chron is pitiful. I subscribed because I believe in newspapers. Living on the farm in the ’40’s with no money, my parents still got the Des Moines Register, once excellent, plus Life, Look, Colliers, The Farm Journal and The Reader’s Digest. When we moved “to town” (Iowa City), we got the Register, Iowa City Press Citizen, and on Sundays, my dad, with a seventh-grade education but a love for reading, would go get The Chicago Tribune and read all day long. I went to the Tribune building in Chicago and was dumbfounded by the inscriptions engraved on the walls in the foyer, but was not lucky enough to run into Clarence Page. My mother was a huge Mike Royko fan and would send me clippings.

    As for the Chron, I couldn’t justify the “dead tree” thing, but continued the deals for Sundays just for “The Pink” and Mick LaSalle. A long-time fan, I wrote him to say I would follow him elsewhere, and got a curt note saying if everyone were like me, he wouldn’t have a job. I explained my environmental concerns and got a nasty note saying I shouldn’t blame my cheapness on environmentalism AND to go ahead and read his column, but not to write anymore.

    The Chron continues to put feature stories on the front page. I hope the NY Times does not die, but people are so busy just running around and being busy that no wonder pills are the way to go. You can still get inexpensive food all over the Bay Area, and now the food trucks have taken over. The taco trucks where I used to get wonderful soft tacos with radishes, jalapenos and onions for $.75 (and be warned by my “white” friends) are now the rage. Now the danger is not e-coli, but shootings.


  3. I used to love to read Herb Caen’s columns.

    Shortly after he died I moved to Santa Rosa and started taking the Press Democrat, which is a local paper in Sonoma County.
    It was a pretty good paper although it is so small.

    I stopped taking the local paper here called Virginian Pilot because it’s like Fox News on paper.

    Herb Caen’s religion was to have one shot of Stoli before going to sleep every day. What a wise man he was!


  4. […] New York Times announced their new pay-for-access model about a year ago as I wrote in this post, Washington Post waited until now to announce that it would also “probably” start charging its […]


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