All that’s fit to print

Let me first say, in my own defense, I actually do lots of reading on the internet. I probably read the same kinds of things that you do (or maybe I don’t read quite as much of the random content links on Facebook – someone must be clicking on them or there wouldn’t be so many of them, but it certainly isn’t me. And you certainly never saw me do it. But I digress.). I read stuff like news stories on reputable news sites, news stories on un-reputable news sites, and ‘news’ stories on Hollywood gossip sites. But when it comes to reading what is now referred to as ‘long form’ content (meaning it isn’t ‘She took a garden rake and you won’t believe what happened!!’ or ’14 things you never knew about ice cream!!’, I’d rather have the physical manifestation than the virtual one.

Unfortunately, it appears that my preferences (and probably my entire demographic too) are well on their way to irrelevance when it comes to how the newspaper and magazine world chooses to conduct itself. Not that I’m in denial about the economics of publishing today and the necessity of online income streams. Quite the contrary. But here are some recent examples that demonstrate some decisions are not being considered with the big picture in mind.

I have been a faithful subscriber to Toronto Life magazine for at least 25 years, or for half of its tenure as a publication, which I think qualifies me as a loyal customer. I am also a frequent visitor to the Toronto Life website, because of the useful, up-to-the-minute information it provides about events in the city. But there has been a disturbing trend over the past year: the entire content of the main cover story has started appearing on the website a good week before the issue hits my mailbox. This annoyed me so much that I sent an email to the editor to point out the irrelevance of having a subscription when I could read the whole issue online for free sooner than my paid copy. To her credit, I immediately received a response saying she was glad I brought it to her attention and that she would think more carefully about the timing of releasing stories to the general (unpaying) public. Duh!

I also subscribe to the Friday and Saturday edition of a newspaper. They also often publish things online before they hit the physical paper, but at least after a certain point they charge people to read the internet version. So that’s not my beef here. My problem is what happens when I need to interrupt the delivery of the paper. It used to be I received a credit for the un-delivered issues. Now, I don’t get a credit but I get free access to the online equivalent, which isn’t the main website content but a special electronic reproduction of the physical paper, complete with ‘pages’ you can turn, ads as they would appear in the analog layout, and text in columns. This actually sounds like a good option until you actually want to use it to read the paper.

First, the print is of course so small (because the broadsheet has to be shrunk to the size of a computer screen – and don’t even think about trying to read it on anything smaller than a laptop) that you have to zoom in so you can only read a small portion of the text, which is of course still in columns. The other problem is you need the internet to access it, and when I need to cancel my paper I am typically not in a place where it is convenient to download the virtual version. So the result is, I have decided to cancel my subscription for the summer and pick up random papers when it’s convenient. I hope that has the desired effect on the newspaper’s bottom line.

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