The other day my subscription to the Los Angeles Times expired. That is, the "special offer" subscription I've been renewing every six months for the past few years. You may know how the ritual goes: You call the Times' circulation line, tell them you're thinking of dropping the paper ("We get it at work anyway") and then let the operator gently suggest an alternative that will allow you to continue receiving the paper at home without paying the rack rate. It's the same with the New York Times. There was a time, a few years ago, when you'd have to be willing to hang up the phone to close the deal, or at the very least to wait through a long silence for the circulation operator's grudging response. Today they practically cut you off at "I'm thinking of --" and come out with the new offer. They don't even pretend to look through some printouts or rate cards while they hold you up.
My new rate is $2.00 per week, about a dollar a week less than before. The only caveat is that I had to pay for the whole year up front. Afterwards, friends politely let me know I was a chump, that I could've probably gotten it without putting up the whole $104 -- if not gotten it for free. Then there are the other friends and colleagues who ask me why I even subscribe to a print edition. These are people who either are on special "weekend" rates or who only get the Sunday edition of the L.A. or N.Y. Times. Or they don't receive any print edition at all, preferring to get their news online -- for free.
"I just read the pieces I want," members of the latter group tell me.
"I scroll down, click on the headlines I'm interested in and click on
just those stories." The old way took too much time. They'll even
complain about the newsprint that still rubs off on their hands,
despite the advent of supposedly smudgeless ink.
I kind of agree with them, but not entirely. Although my wife and I stopped getting the daily N.Y. Times delivered some years ago, we still get the Sunday print edition and all days of the L.A. Times. Even in our home, though, there is a division of preference. Sandra reads both Timeses online only -- except that she prefers reading the print versions of the Sunday N.Y. Times Books and Week in Review sections. (The cat is somewhat agnostic on the matter, preferring to sleep on the current Vanity Fair.)
Still, every time the subscriptions end I come close to pulling the
plug. Perhaps I shouldn't make the phone call to threaten to cancel our
papers from our small reading room. Its book shelves make it a print
sanctuary, after all, emotionally tilting the argument for renewal over
cancelation. Nor does it help that we've got framed newspaper front
pages hanging on the walls, including the last edition of the New York Daily Mirror that I brought home one day from the corner store to my parents. ("Valachi Sings Here Today" screams its headline.)
I appreciate how easy it is to read a newspaper by scrolling down a
monitor. But I also know how much easier this makes it to miss stories
that, when spread out on a page, next door to the article you're
reading, sometimes catch your attention through a photograph or phrase
glimpsed from a corner of the eye. I also know how easy it is to skip
entire sections when online -- and how much quicker and easier it is to
unfold a print section or flip a page. About once a week I'll call out
to Sandra, as I sit hunched over the paper, to ask if she's seen a
certain article online. "No," she'll say, surprised that she missed it.
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This will probably be the last year I get the paper delivered. I have
the feeling that next August I will pick up the phone (though probably
not from our reading room) and cancel the subscription quickly enough
so that I'm not tempted by any special offers. If there are any special offers -- or newspapers -- available next year. Even reading the Times online, though, I'll probably still imagine there's newsprint on my hands. They never did figure that one out.