New Year's Resolution: A Schnorrer No More

Fact: Newspaper readership continues to grow. A Nielsen Scarborough study shows that 169 million adults read a paper in some format or another in the most recent month surveyed. That's pretty impressive, considering that there are only 241 million U.S. adults.

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.

15 comments about "New Year's Resolution: A Schnorrer No More".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 3, 2017 at 11:15 a.m.

    "repulsive, morally bankrupt ignoramus"? I can appreciate you seem stuck on stage 2 of the Kübler-Ross model, but the rest of the column is so high-minded and noble that your anger seems out-of-place. Is there a Yiddish word for such feelings of loss? What's the word for get-over-it?

  2. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, January 3, 2017 at 11:27 a.m.

    I will never get over it. I don't wish to get over it. Getting over it is to accept the worst in politics and human behavior.  Getting over it is cowardice.  Getting over it is surrender.

  3. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC replied, January 3, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

    Bob, I'm with you:      

    “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty…We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason.” – Edward R. Murrow

  4. Jeff Sawyer from GH, January 3, 2017 at 1:09 p.m.

    One of the great pleasures of my life, and it has been so since middle school, is sitting down after dinner with a good newspaper. That hour is my meditation, my Manhattan, my yoga, and I am happy to pay for it.

    Except for the comics. They stink. 

  5. Garrett Donaldson from JKR Advertising & Marketing, January 3, 2017 at 1:14 p.m.

    Thanks Bob,

    You've convinced me to renew my subscription to The National Review!

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, January 3, 2017 at 1:24 p.m.

    As Stalin said, "Nostrovya"

  7. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC replied, January 3, 2017 at 1:27 p.m.

    Sorry, Doug, but accepting that Donald Trump is in any way fit to be our president is the very definition of "meshugenah".

  8. David Rodnitzky from 3Q Digital, January 3, 2017 at 1:36 p.m.

    Feels like rearranging deck chairs on the Titantic to me.

    Perhaps we could also buy some Kodak film while we are at it.

  9. Jacquelyn Lynn from Tuscawilla Creative Services, January 3, 2017 at 2:04 p.m.

    Maybe some of those 169 million people read the newspapers and decided they didn't want a repulsive, morally bankrupt criminal in the White House. 

  10. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, January 3, 2017 at 2:11 p.m.

    "Perhaps we could also buy some Kodak film while we are at it."

    An interesting comparison, though it completely contradicts the point I think you were trying to make, since digital photography has still not matched the visual quality of film, despite film's many other drawbacks.

    On the article itself, I wonder if honor box newspaper racks might have an internet counterpart in some future "small pay" system, where reading one or two complete newspaper articles online would cost 25 cents or so, paid for with a click. Once those small payments hit five bucks or so, it would auto-pay the source of the article through PayPal or whatever.  Sort of a Google Ad-Sense, in reverse. 

    I'm guessing here, but isn't pay-as-you-go a better incentive than lump-payment subscription?

  11. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, January 3, 2017 at 2:13 p.m.

    Apparently, you missed the big news. The repulsive, morally bankrupt criminal won the election. He'll be sworn-in shortly.

  12. Garrett Donaldson from JKR Advertising & Marketing, January 3, 2017 at 4:12 p.m.

    Perhaps Jacquelyn was not reffering to the winner. Maybe?

  13. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, January 3, 2017 at 5:35 p.m.

    Gee, ... ya think?

    PS;... I guess there's no need telling you that the word "gullible" isn't in the dictionary?

  14. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 3, 2017 at 7:38 p.m.

    It's management. It's management. Just spoke with a friend who works at "the" paper and they cannot get their act together from distribution, to product sales, to putting ads together for the smaller businesses which do not have agencies, from errors upon errors, from paper work taking up over 50% of the sales department's time and no one doing anything about it or even reading it, from buying the wrong presses (Ok, that was in the 90's), from raiding the pension plan and sucking the life out of other profit structures, from hiring people who are so incompetent that you wouldn't hire them for weed pullers........

  15. Lloyd Peterson from Invidi, January 3, 2017 at 9:13 p.m.

    How interesting to read this article the same day we found out the New Jersey Star Ledger now refuses to deliver papers to our neighborhood in Central New Jersey.  After years of being loyal paying customers, they won't take any more business from us as they scale back their delivery areas.  We're still trying to convince them that if they can deliver the paper a block away, they can continue bringing one to us, but so far all we've gotten is a half-hearted pitch to use their on-line service instead, though they gave up on that after we mentioned the difficulty of solving the crossword puzzles on the screen.  We are willing to pay more for the subscription, as we had to do with the New York Times this same week, but don't want to lose the news during this critical year.  I suppose this is related to the killing of jobs that you mentioned, but if they're trying to force people who are trying to pay for a subscription to move to an unpaid on-line service instead, the death spiral can't be stopped.

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