What Are Words Worth?

Media, Reading & Writing

It has become my mantra in the last year: Fellow writers, remember we own the well. If content provers want to grab themselves a bucketful, they have to pay for what’s in the bucket. So, now that newspaper websites are starting to charge for content, how do we feel?

Clearly there’s a problem, because subscription take-up has been lower than expected, andrew are following the lead set by the Times newspaper. When they started charging for their regular online presence I switched to other sites because, frankly, most of their writing wasn’t special enough for me to want to pay for it.

Good straight reportage can by found on Al-Jazeera, Guardian and Telegraph sites, and I’ll even use Auntie as a fallback if I have to. I stopped reading the Sunday Times after it became so reactionary, but there are many US sites I can’t do without because the writing is so thorough and well-researched. The best, the New York Times, is of course subscription now.

But to read the papers I read before would cost a fortune every month, so my reading habits have altered. However, when the writing is special – as it is in the New York Times – it’s much harder to do without. Could this be the way forward for subscription sites to raise their readerships? Make sure that their writing is indispensable and brilliant again?

I’ll live without the Sunday Times because I’m not interested in handbags or football or anything that Jeremy Clarkson has to say. But I’d miss Grace Dent and Charlie Brooker if the Guardian charged. And I wouldn’t last long without the New Yorker.

Content must be paid for. But there are good sites that have no print presence, like The Londonist, The Daily Beast and Salon.com.

Recently I posted about ‘Black Static’ a subscription print magazine that even its editor admits has woefully low sales figures. But there’s something deeply pleasurable about a paper magazine that reads like the part-work of a really big book. And seeing as Britain is one of the most sedentary countries in Europe, we might as well all get some more quality reading in.

So if papers think subscription is the way forward, they had better make sure they have good writers.

2 comments on “What Are Words Worth?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Absolutely.
    Glad to hear you, too, are addicted to the New York Times. I can’t do without it, even though it has also gotten a bit lighter – or is that lite-r – of late. (In addition to the daily paper, the science section on Tuesdays is top of the line. And the Sunday T magazine and the Book Section!) My Dad got me hooked on the NYT way back… well, a long time ago. The home delivery cost is – Wow – but worth it. More news well done, less red wine with the roast medium well done.
    And Admin, Thanks. Since I am a master typo-artist, I can only say a big thanks for your unintended gift in kind. Would that be the royal one?

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Your reading pattern changed when they started to charge for on-line editions. What were they supposed to do? If paper editions are too expensive for the bulk of readers then the papers have to charge for on-line or how are they to pay those writers. Good writers and researchers are expensive – or should be – and would they get enough income from advertisers to be able to provide content for free? We’re not talking about the daily freebies here.

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