One suspects that the survey uses a broad definition of “newspaper,” but never mind. The people, they are reading. Which would be sensational news for the democracy except for two things:
1) Some of those 169 million aren't paying attention to what they are reading, or dismissing it, otherwise we wouldn't have a repulsive, morally bankrupt ignoramus about to ascend to the presidency.
2) The readers aren't coming close to paying their way.
This has partly to do with publishers’ historically ruinous early Web strategy of giving the content away for free, despite the immutable laws of economics that guaranteed a death spiral of ad rates in a marketplace of bottomless supply. It also has to do with the audience's sense of entitlement. The stuff is out there. It's free. Why subscribe?
In its selfishness, such a question is perverse. In its reckoning, it's undeniably rational. Why indeed?
Well, there are several reasons, and isn't it high time for publishers to get busy offering them?
1) Freeloading is obnoxious. Someone else is paying your tab. Is that what you want to be? Someone taking handouts? Why not grab a cardboard sign and work the median strip at a busy intersection? The sign could say: “Oh, I have money, but I still want you to give me some of yours.”
2) The very institution that 169 million adults depend on is starving to death. Here is a brief excerpt from a MediaPost story from last week: The Wall Street Journal, for example, lost 21% of its overall advertising revenue in the third quarter of 2016. The New York Times suffered an 18% loss, Gannett lost 15% and Tronc saw a 11% dip in its print ad revenue. News industry analyst Ken Doctor reported forecasts of another 10% decrease in print revenue next year.
Thus the layoffs and buyouts that have killed newspaper jobs by the tens of thousands, and the parallel deep cuts in reporting beats for coverage of crime, statehouses, local government, business, labor, environment and even -- God help us -- sports. Subscription revenue, at the moment, is at best a glucose drip, barely keeping the patient alive.
3) Back in the day, you could grab a paper at a vending machine called an “honor box.” The papers could simply be removed, but you were on your honor to come up with the coin. Think about your honor.
4) And maybe your duty. As a 30-year veteran of public radio, I am more than casually acquainted with the proposition: You use us. You need us. You depend on us. And we in turn depend on you to do your part. Yes, all those radio waves are sent out, at great expense, free of charge. But they have value to you. Don't you have a responsibility to pay your way? And even if not a responsibility, don't you want to show your appreciation for the work we do? Don't you want to be a part of what we do? Of course you do! Send money, please. Money!
5) And look at what you get! All the great content such as you've been sponging for 15 years, minus all the annoying popups of us trying to sign you up. A sense of pride and satisfaction of being an honorable, informed citizen. The end of all that free-floating guilt you've harbored over the years of being a schnorrer. A bumper sticker, telling the world who you value and trust. Oh, if you can get your family and friends to do the same thing by the thousands, eventually you'll get a better newspaper.
So subscribe, for crying out loud, now -- to your local paper, and your favorite magazine (and to one of the 400-some public radio stations that carry that wonderful On the Media program). It's January 3. Time's a wasting. The world is about to fall apart. Get yourself a front row seat.