Sunday, October 4, 2009

Digital Ink and $6 Newspapers

The Sunday New York Times now has a $6.00 price tag. What is the tangible and cerebral value of the physical newspaper that you don't get with the free digital ink version. Why do you spend $6.00 for something you can get for free?

Today's $6.00 NYT was bought at the local Starbucks. Unlike the electronic version, you can hold it in your hand, spread it out in front of you. What you get is its layout, its physical presentation, the placement of the stories and the ads, and even how the sections are set up in the bundle. The two most timely sections - news and sports - are on top, on the outside of the bundle. The book review, travel section, and magazine are buried in the middle because they were finished first and waited for the rest of the paper to be built around it.

The NY Times starts with international news as you go through the news section and then moves to the US, then to the Regional News and then the New York news. This is the exact opposite of how the Washington Post's physical news section is laid out. You don't get this flow when you look at the digital edition even though all the pieces are there. Is the value of the paper this flow?

You spread all the sections out, browse across the sections deciding on your reading strategy, what to read first, what to save for last and then begin the ritual. Browsing is easier, there is a more intuitive sense of flow than the digital version and you can actually read more than one section at once without having to have a big screen monitor and two browser windows open.

You hold the paper in front of you as you watch the people coming and going. No one reads People at the Starbucks. Books and newspapers. Unless they are staring at their laptop. Are people in coffee shops more intellectual or do they just look that way? When you leave you fold up your paper and carry it out of the store prominently displayed. It makes a statement about being intellectually engaged (or maybe economically stupid.) You can't do that with a Kindle.

But here we are. To write this post you need the digital version. You need the hyperlinks, permalinks and digital browsing. The current state of affairs for books, newspapers, music, inventions, copyrights, patents, and all other forms of intellectual property and their existence in the physical and digital worlds is being driven by the New York Times question: Why do you pay $6.00 for something you can get for free?

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