Ten Good Reasons To Buy: The Newspaper Edition

from the it-works dept

Recently, Mike posted a concise list of Ten Good Reasons to Buy – one of two essential elements in the Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy strategy that he has been observing and helping to define for some time. These reasons were brainstormed at Midem 2009, so they focus on the music business – but CwF+RtB has potential in all sorts of industries (Techdirt itself employs it).

So, with the New York Times going metered and rejecting a proposed membership model that would have been much more CwF+RtB-ish, I thought it might be worth looking at Mike’s list from the perspective of newspaper publishing. Though some of the ideas are more suited to musicians, it still qualifies as Ten Good Reasons to Buy.

(It should be stated from the outset that I believe advertising will continue to be the primary source of revenue for newspapers, and that I think paywalls and meters are doomed to fail. See my recent post here on Techdirt and my extensive ramblings on good.is for more on why. That being said, if newspapers use CwF+RtB in truly innovative ways, they might just turn the whole industry on its head. Stranger things have happened.)

“1. Access: Access to the actual content creators is a real scarcity and one that can often be used to make money in ways that make fans quite happy.”

Sometimes newspapers do this backwards. When fundraisers and events and the like seek media sponsors, newspapers will request a hosting spot for one of their writers or editors as a condition for the sponsorship. In other words, the content creators buy access to the fans.

This isn't always how it goes though – it depends on the event in question and the profile of the staff. In some cases the newspaper seeks sponsorship for their talent, and throws in event appearances and panel discussions to sweeten the deal. But in all cases, the main purpose of the whole shebang is to sell more subscriptions.

There might be a lot more opportunities here. Why just panels and events? What about workshops, custom reports and analysis, even one-on-one attention? The thing to remember here is that the fans in question, or at least the most profitable ones, are business fans. Businesspeople read newspapers because the information and expertise has direct and immediate value to them. Connect finance writers with traders, legal writers with law firms, tech writers with software developers – with some creativity, there could be money to be made.

I can think of some ideas outside the business sphere too, but I have gone on for too long already and I'm only on Reason #1.

“2. Attention: One of the most important scarcities in the digital age. Attention is incredibly scarce, and if you've got it, you can do a lot with it.”

This one is simple: active, vibrant comment sections where writers, columnists and editors regularly participate. Many newspapers see some of the trash that inevitably turns up in every comment section and go sour on the whole affair, allowing their columnists to shutter their comments when they should be requiring them (and paying them if necessary) to get involved. They will quickly realize that online communities become self-moderating once rational, intelligent debate is established and readers know they have the writers’ attention.

So far this isn't a reason to buy – at least not for the readers themselves. Advertisers are another story. An engaged community of readers is worth a lot more than the impressions they bring to a website – savvy advertisers will want their ideas, not just their eyes. See Techdirt's IT Innovation blog for a prime example of this.

“3. Authenticity: This one also includes ‘trust.’ The ability to be authentic carries tremendous weight and is quite scarce at times. But if you can provide something that is authentic and valuable, it's often a very strong reason to buy.”

Authenticity is what everyone already touts as the strength of newspapers and the reason that people will consent to pay for their content. But newspapers are far from perfect, and in a world where transparency is becoming as important as trust, their reticence about sources and methods is starting to seem old-fashioned. If newspapers continue to resist the linking culture, and continue to leave out details that could easily be added in appendices and footnotes online where space is unlimited, they risk being left behind. Moreover, if big names leak too much talent to more innovative startups, they could quickly lose authenticity (and surely someone will say they've jumped the shark.)

So I guess what I’m saying is: yes, without authenticity none of these other RtBs matter in the slightest – so dont go sacrificing it now.

“4. Exclusivity: Many people value having something that very few (or perhaps no) others have.”

This is essentially what has allowed the WSJ paywall to succeed where so many others have failed. At the business level, and especially in finance, exclusive information has significant value, and the paywall created a certain sense of exclusivity. Ultimately the flimsiness of that exclusivity could be what brings it down – but what about something truly exclusive? Custom news aggregators for businesses have been showing some success – what about exclusive news aggregators managed by a team of the newspaper's respected editors? That's just one idea of many.

Outside the business world this is a tougher nut to crack. Financial news gets more valuable with exclusivity, but most news is the opposite: a big portion of its value comes from sharing it. Nonetheless, there may be certain forms of exclusivity that avid readers will pay for. It will come down to individual newspapers knowing their strengths and their audiences, and seeing ways to offer them something they want. If anyone has any creative ideas, I'd love to hear them.

“5. (New) Creation: The ability to create something new is a scarcity. This often confuses people, because a digital good once created is no longer scarce -- but the ability to create it is still very much a scarcity.”

Most newspapers understand that gathering information and creating content is what they do, so there's not much to say here. Newspapers that are drastically cutting back reporting staff and ramping up the wire content should remember that, while distributed reporting makes a lot of sense in many situations, every publication needs to continue creating something new that has value, or all is lost.

“6. Tangibility: The granddad of scarcities: physical products.

News on paper is the core physical product at the moment, but that’s not going to be around forever. I suspect that some newspapers will transform into news magazines, since the market for glossy, full-colour formats with good photography and long-form journalism will likely outlive the market for cheap newsprint broadsheets. A nice physical product has always been important to magazines, and people are willing to pay for it; newspapers are designed to be as cheap and disposable as possible, which is why the internet renders them obsolete. This shift to a magazine format might actually make sense for some newspapers, if they can establish a role for themselves as what Devin Coldewey calls the delayed media.

All that being said, the money from selling the physical product has never carried the weight of newspapers or magazines, and it’s certainly not going to start now.

In terms of other physical products, I don’t see any reason why newspapers couldn't sell more merchandise, though I’m not sure how to go about it in a way that would bring in significant revenue. Lots of newspapers sell things like photo prints and keepsake copies, but so far it hasn’t proven to be that lucrative. On the other hand, those initiatives are often old and mechanical, and some may not have had fresh marketing treatment in years – who knows what they might be overlooking?

And if all else fails, the New York Times can just become an authorized Apple retailer.

“7. Time (saving or making): People will pay if you can save them time (or give them extra time in some manner).”

Time is especially valuable in business. As far as saving time goes, there might be a market for rapid fact-sheets and summarized reports that supplement the newspaper’s core editorial. Though difficult to sell by themselves, if combined with some level of exclusivity this could be a great revenue stream: customized reports, similar to the aggregator model I mentioned earlier. Some business publications do sell reports, but more often than not these are of the annual reference tome variety, a format that today is about as useful as a phone book. If there is money to be made, it will come from more rapid and direct business services.

“8. Convenience: If you make things more convenient, many people will buy, even if free options are available. That's one reason why iTunes has done so well.”

This is what a lot of people in the industry are banking on with the iPad and other tablets, but if they seriously believe the iTunes store will work for newspapers just like it does for music and movies, they are in for a rude awakening. Apple is selling music to people who are used to paying much more for CDs, and they still face stiff competition and had to remove DRM to satisfy their customers. Newspapers have an audience that is accustomed to getting the news for free, sharing it openly on social networks, blogging about it, linking to it and generally enjoying it without restriction. Moreover, while the digital alternatives to iTunes for music and movies are torrents or peer-to-peer programs, the alternatives to iTunes for newspapers will be countless news websites that are equally convenient and which stay free to soak up all the advertising revenue. Very few people, if any, are loyal to a newspaper the way legions of fans are loyal to a favourite recording artist. Convenience is still an important part of delivering the news, but that’s because readers already expect it.

It should be noted separately that the concept of Convenience also ties in with the custom business services I propose under Time and Exclusivity.

“9. Belonging: Never underestimate just how important a sense of belonging to a group or a tribe is – and being able to provide that in an authentic manner can be a true scarcity.”

A sense of belonging stems from the attention I discussed earlier. I talked a lot about comment sections, but those aren't the only form of audience engagement: Twitter is an extremely valuable tool, and I've often wondered if good old fashioned forums might have some potential on news websites.

But I think the real goldmine could be participatory journalism: there are a lot of citizens out there who want to get involved in the reporting process, and the concept is gaining steam, with YouTube and CNN getting on board, among others. So, why aren't there more people out there training citizen journalists? I bet newspapers, especially at the community level, would have an easy time finding groups and clubs that would pay for reporting workshops and seminars. Or they could try something like the PPF Group in the Czech Republic: opening hyperlocal newspaper-cafés where editorial staff will interact with the public (and partnering with Google in the process.)

And yes, I know that's an NYT link. It's ironic on two levels.

“10. Patronage: Definitely depends on the situation, but there are some people who just want to support an artist, no matter what. And that presents a scarcity.”

Out of curiosity I searched “newspaper patronage”, and I found this highly amusing editorial in an 1878 edition of a New Brunswick newspaper from the Google News archives (don't you just hate the way Google is destroying our culture?).

“Many long and weary years have forced the conviction upon us that newspaper patronage is a word of many definitions, and that a great majority of mankind are either ignorant of the correct definition, or are dishonest in a strict Biblical sense of the word. Newspaper patronage is composed of as many colors as the rainbow, and is as changeable as a chameleon.”

Several comic caricatures of different types of newspaper patrons follow, and then:

“Now isn't newspaper patronage a curious thing? And in that great day when the gentleman in black gets his dues, as he surely will, how many of the patrons enumerated above will fall to his share? Now it will be seen that while certain kinds of patronage are the very life and existence of a newspaper, there are other kinds of patronage that are more destructive than deadly night shade.”

I suspect the same will prove true today.
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Filed Under: journalism, news, reasons to buy, scarcities

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  1. icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:24pm

    11 - because if nobody is paying for it, it won't be there anymore to enjoy for "FREE!".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:28pm


    My local paper is delivered to my home, for free. That is, the delivery is free and so is the paper.

    I'm still enjoying it. For free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:29pm

    Rule #1

    Having things to sell also helps give reason to buy. Like T-Shirts or hats, or DVDs from your webcam showing you hard at work trolling your own blog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:34pm

    Re: Rule #1

    A hypothesis without proof is about as useless as proof without a hypothesis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    rabbit, 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:46pm


    oh. fer pete's sake.

    just because what you are selling has absolutely no worth to me does not mean that i want everything for free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: Rule #1

    1: Isn't it odd that the trolls always go away when Mike is flying without WiFi?

    2: Isn't it odd that Mike's employees only come to the site and post 1-2 comments a month?

    3: Isn't it strange that anonymous is quick to point out the obvious, as though it's on authority?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Brian (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    So how do you know the exact times that Mike is and isn't on a plane? Or do you just assume he is on there the moment anybody named anonymous doesn't post in stories right away? And of course Mike is the ONLY person who would EVER point out the obvious.

    You sir are a moron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 3:58pm


    I would learn a bit about newspaper economics if I were you... That statement betrays how little you understand what's going on in the industry

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    What does your third point even mean?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    I'm pretty sure this anonymous is Mike, preemptively admitting to his deception under the guise of some crazy paranoid idiot to discredit the idea before Anti-Mike inevitably proposes it. Also the Anti-Mike is Mike, as is Dark Helmet.

    After all, that is the only reasonable right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    *reasonable explanation.

    Sorry, i broke my keyboard and i am typing from a remote program on my ipod

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    The Sarcastic-Mike, 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    So you're stealing from the keyboard industry? Will the freetards on this site never learn?

    Have fun trying to type without keyboards in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Re:

    The betrayal begins everytime TAM makes a statement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Re:

    except you know it's not free. It's just without apparent charge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    What an eminently silly issue to raise. I viewed the post as an agreement that people need reasons to buy. Yet you seemed to gloss right over that.

    If Mike doesn't troll his own blog, then he won't sell a DVD of him trolling his own blog. But if he does troll his own blog, he might as well make some money at it, no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:34pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    So, in other words, free. Yeah, I know. It's free. I can go down to the local shopping market and pick up one free copy or ten free copies.

    Still free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    No, it's free to you, and paid for by advertising.

    Free news is not the problem. The problem is that readers have migrated online and the advertising dollars haven't followed them. But that is a temporary situation. Newspapers need to have two core goals: first, increase advertising revenue and especially advertising rates, by offering more creative campaigns and breaking out of the cpm model. Second, seek out other new revenue streams, which is the purpose of this post.

    I had rather hoped we could use the comments to brainstorm useful ideas for newspapers instead of bickering about free again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Rule #1


    although actually, this remote is one of the few apps I've happily paid more than a dollar for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 4:55pm

    Okay so before arguments take over the thread, does anyone have any ideas? I am especially interested in this idea of customized news delivery and aggregation with different levels of exclusivity, and other business services. Mike also pointed out that exclusivity is a big part of the value of access.

    Thoughts on these or any of the points?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 5:34pm


    “4. Exclusivity: Many people value having something that very few (or perhaps no) others have.”

    "This is essentially what has allowed the WSJ paywall to succeed where so many others have failed."

    That's part of it, but the bigger part is timeliness. The thing with financial news is that it is often valuable in the morning, and worthless in the afternoon. The WSJ et al. don't have to prevent others from repeating what they've said, they just have to say it in the morning. People will pay for access to that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 5:40pm

    Re: Close

    that's a really good point. In a sense they are combined too, in that the partial exclusivity being on the inside rather than the outside is what motivates paying for the timely access.

    Still, its not as though it takes a long time to repeat and disseminate content, which is why the WSJ paywall is probably not sustainable in the long term.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 6:02pm


    I have no ideas, as I've been drinking. Fortunately, my alter ego Mike Masnick has NOT been drinking, and has ideas. Unfortunately, said alter ego appears to be otherwise occupied.

    Side note: I wonder if his birthday is today as well, or if alter egos don't share existence anniversaries....

    *Inebriated post #2

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 6:13pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm right there with you DH. I neglected to mention the reason my keyboard is broken: I spilled a beer on it.

    But drinking doesn't impair ideas, just ability to convey them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2010 @ 6:35pm


    I am especially interested in this idea of customized news delivery and aggregation with different levels of exclusivity, and other business services.

    Nobody cares enough to pay for it. Free customized aggregation from Google? Sure. For money? No. Exclusivity? Of what? Access to more bits? Bits are bits, and bits are free, remember? If they're not, we'll make them free anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 6:48pm

    Re: Re:

    That wouls have been my initial reaction too, but Newsnow has been selling custom aggregation services and that made me think twice.

    Newspapers could offer something neither Google nor Newsnow does: custom aggregation managed to some degree by human editors. I see it as a far more reasonable proposition than a simple paywall.

    I admit that it's unlikely to worm outside of business, but thats okay. If some people will pay for the WSJ online, even more will pay for something that offers more meaningful exclusivity, timeliness and convenience.

    I'm not 100% sure about this idea either, but dont write it offf too quickly. See: http://newsnow.co.uk/services/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Jon Renaut (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 8:16pm


    The thing that makes the most sense to me for newspapers is to look to the business world for paid research. Certainly it is valuable for a business to be kept up to date on things that relate to their business.

    And the really hard part of journalism is doing that research - developing relationships with key players, knowing who to ask when something comes up, knowing how to relate data from various sources. Actually writing about it is not nearly as difficult. If the business would pay for the research, for the up-to-the-minute info, actually putting together the news stories becomes pretty cheap. And advertising can probably make that worthwhile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 5 Feb 2010 @ 9:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "No, it's free to you, and paid for by advertising.

    Free news is not the problem. The problem is that readers have migrated online and the advertising dollars haven't followed them."

    World of hurt for you... The advertising dollars have followed them online, it is the fact that advertising has become more efficient. Efficiency means it costs less to do something. Newpapers cant compete with the costs. In this case every search engine does it better and the advertisers expect more for their dollar.

    "I had rather hoped we could use the comments to brainstorm useful ideas for newspapers instead of bickering about free again."

    It has nothing to do with free, and it does at the same time. Information is free. Bob buys and reads a story in a paper about the snow storm thats coming. He tells Mary. Mary calls her mom and tells her. Mom is a gossip and tells the people at bingo. Expecting people to pay to tell their friends is unreasonable. That is what the newspapers want.

    Its not piracy or leaching that will kill the papers its an over abundance of debt and an increase in the efficiencies in the advertising world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Rasmus, 6 Feb 2010 @ 3:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The online advertising already bring in enough revenue for most newspapers to operate both the website and the editorial staff.

    What is killing them is that the print editions no longer is able to bring in enough revenue to pay for the enormous costs of operating a printing press and the distribution network suitable for a daily newspaper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 3:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    I considered it and dismissed the idea that Mike might have some of his people playing anonymous to try to bait me off the site. Mike isn't that type of a guy.

    I do find it interesting that the collective contributors don't seem to make very many posts. That musician dude from Toronto made a few last year, but I suspect his school work load this year is too high.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    you and rasmus are both right... But understand what i mean when i say the dollars haven't followed:

    Newspapers' biggest bucks have always come from large-scale branding campaigns that incorporate more than just bulk lineage-rate ads: advertorials, sponsorships, joint venture sections, etc. Those campaigns are the ones that have had trouble migrating online because everything is locked into CPM rates

    I dont agree that online advertising is more efficient. Perhaps Google's search ads are, but most other online advertising is woefully ineffective. Newspapers are good at ads - they need to bring that talent online and start devising and selling campaigns with true value beyond the CPM.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 7:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Regarding your points about information being free and charging people to share being bad, isn't it clear that i already know that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re:

    Interesting... But will businesses fund public research? I suspect you would need to include a lot of exclusive perks to get them on board - but that might just work even better, allowing for pricing tiers that offer greater and greater business advantages while still populating a free business publication, further supported by ads.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    dan bloom, 6 Feb 2010 @ 7:59am


    snailpapers, yes, buy the snailpapers, google The Snailpaper Statement to see the truth....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    ...and their crippling debt. You're right of course, and scaling back print operations is going to imperative for some and eventually all newspapers. But media companies want to grow, not shrink, and they are rightfully wary of losing even more audiences if they sacrifice their flagship products.

    I still believe it is possible for clever companies to resume steady growth and smoothly transition into the digital environment, though it will be exceptionally difficult. I don't think anything on this list is the sole solution, merely that this is the type of innovation that is needed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Jon Renaut (profile), 6 Feb 2010 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think they'll fund public research if it's high quality and timely. Businesses spend tons on understanding the market they're in. If the newspaper can deliver that more efficiently, they'll definitely pay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    dan bloom, 6 Feb 2010 @ 3:59pm

    why snailpapers will never die out.....

    Paul Gillin in his Newspaper Death Watch last week blogged this
    brief item, first time the news appeared:

    Dan Bloom has come up with a new word for newspapers. He calls them
    “snailpapers.” Only the longtime newspaperman insists this is a term
    of endearment, not derision. He thinks maybe if newspapers poked more
    fun at themselves instead of getting all righteously indignant about
    new media, they would generate more sympathy. More on his blog at "zippy1300".


    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that while the Digital Age
    is upon us fast and furious, the print newspaper -- hereafter dubbed
    the "snailpaper" -- shall persevere as a good daily read, a
    fascinating look at the world around us and a valuable tool for
    understanding oped pundits and above the fold headlines. Sure, the
    dear snailpaper will also be seen as a useful tool
    for wrapping fish at the Fulton Fish Market or lining the bird cage in
    the den, but all kidding aside -- har! har! -- the daily snailpaper
    can hold its head high and be certain of its place in the culture.
    While news migrates in pixels and bytes to the Internet at an
    exponential rate, piling breaking story upon breaking story and
    turning everyone and his mother into a 24/7 news freak and RSS
    aggregator, the plodding snailpaper will nevertheless remain the
    bedrock of analysis and insight, from sea to shining sea, delivered at
    a snail's pace, yes, read at a snail's pace, yes, and absorbed, word
    for word -- on glorius printed paper! white newsprint reflecting inked
    letters! -- at a snail's pace, yes, as long as the Republic of Letters
    shall live."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    dan e bloom, 6 Feb 2010 @ 5:22pm

    snailpapers and me!

    Confessions of an Old Fuddieduddy (OFD) & The Daily Paper
    Rate: 0 Email
    Click "Submit Abuse" if you feel this post is inappropriate. Explain why below if you wish.

    Some novel uses for snails, or why the term "snailpapers" for print newspapers is a step backwards for mankind, and yet at the same time, a step forward into the future of backward thinking, and still, at the very same time, a cute way to think about our daily ritual of reading the local print newspaper that comes to our doors every morning with news that is 12 hours late, some might even say stale!

    by Dan E. Bloom

    Please read this OS commentary at a snail's pace or, as some might say,
    at a snail's gallop. Because this story is about snails in our
    language and how terms
    like snailmail and snailpapers (for print newspapers) came to be

    If something happens at a snail's pace, of course, it means
    that the action happens at a snail's pace. When watching a movie, if
    the plot seems to be unfolding at a snail's pace, it might mean seem
    to the viewer in the theater as if all the characters in the film were

    What about snail bait? That's a good one. That's a humorous way of
    talking about a slow-moving, lazy, or sluggish person.
    Not jail bait, that's something different.

    You've heard of a web cam and overhead cam, but what's a snail cam?
    Get ready for this one: It's a cam for mechanical engineers that
    features a cam with spiral cross-section used for progressive lifting
    of a lever as the cam revolves.

    Snail fever? You do not want to catch snail fever, and here's why.
    Schistosomiasis is a tropical disease caused by infestation with
    schistosomes, widespread in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin
    America through use of contaminated water. Why you don't to catch
    snail fever, even at a snail's pace: It's characterized by infection
    and gradual destruction of the tissues of the kidneys, liver, and
    other organs. And you might die. Slowly. At a snail's pace. Not a
    pretty picture.

    Now we all know that snail mail (two words) or snailmail (one word) is
    a derogatory "retronym" — named after the snail with its proverbially
    slow speed — coined in 1982 to refer to letters and missives carried
    by conventional postal delivery services. The phrase refers to the
    lag-time between dispatch of a letter and its receipt, versus the
    virtually instantaneous dispatch and delivery of its electronic
    equivalent, e-mail. But snailmail, for all its ornery derogatoriness
    can also be a term of endearment for sending and receiving mail in the
    old-fashioned way, using such arcane instruments as paper, envelopes
    that can sealed up with glue (or saliva!), handwriting tools, stamps,
    postmarks, things like that. Some people still love that stuff. I do!

    Did you know that snail mail is also sometimes used as a term in
    reference to penpals? Get this: "Snail mail penpals are those penpals
    that communicate with one another through the postal system, rather
    than on the internet which is becoming the standard form of
    communication for penpals." That's what I learned today while I was
    typing this article at a snail's pace in my usual hunt-and-peck
    never-learned-to-type-properly-because-as-a-boy-in-high-school-I-took-shop-instead-of -home-economics-in-the-1960s-way-of-stereotyping-genders.

    There are lots of stories, some true, some not, some urban legendary, some pockmarked, some
    apocalyptic, about how snailmail got its name. Says one source (and I
    am just copying and pasting here): "This term was used at least as
    early as 1981 in the animated feature 'Strawberry Shortcake: Big Apple
    City' to describe mail being delivered by a snail. Strawberry receives
    her letter three weeks late because, as the snail character admits,
    'Snail mail, she is slow'."

    And now you know....the rest of the snailmail story.

    But there's more: you might be reading this article in your own daily

    Yes, this newspaper you are holding in your hands right
    now, scanning the headlines and checking out
    the photographs, turning the pages and going back and forth as your
    whims dictate, this is a snailpaper!

    Why do I call it that? Well,
    first of all, let me explain that the word as I use it here is not a
    derogatory retronym but rather a term of endearment. Because I love my
    daily snailpaper and I hope and pray that snailpapers will never
    disappear from the face of the Earth. Maybe they will disappear, but
    if they are fated to do so, I hope they disappear at a snail's pace so
    that I can spend the rest of my life, at least, reading my daily

    If in the future, after I'm gone, and my entire generation
    passes to the Great Beyond (where the afterlife will really proceed at
    a snail's pace, I am sure!), snailpapers are completely replaced by
    this thing called the Internet and online news platforms, well, at
    least, I knew what the smell of ink was like, the sound of
    freshly-turned pages, and the joy of clipping stories out of the paper
    and folding them up and putting them in my shirt pocket for later
    reference, and sitting a sunny park bench reading the bright newsprint
    thingamajig with joy and anticipation as I turned each page -- at a
    snail's pace.

    So long live the daily snailpaper, and long may it prosper still in
    our Digital Pixel Culture where "don't blink or you'll miss it" has
    become the defining moment of human awareness. Sigh.

    Okay, I'm an old fuddieduddy (OFD), way past my prime and edging into
    my 60s in a world where you can't trust anyone over 30 (remember that
    one!), but I a happy OFD and there's nothing like firing up my outdoor
    BBQ grill with some odd remnants of my daily snailpaper as fuel to get
    the coals going. Fuel for thought? Food for thought.


    Dan E. Bloom (the middle initial stands for "electronic") is a 1971
    graduate of Tufts University in Boston where he majored in

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), 7 Feb 2010 @ 6:48am

    Re: snailpapers and me!

    Oh my god, nowhere near that many words are necessary to explain why newspapers still have a certain appeal. I get it.

    Nobody is disagreeing with that okay? If you like the morning paper, keep buying it! But listen: you live in a market driven world, and you have to deal with that. The value of the charm of the paper is beginning to hold less weight, since it has been outdone in its other strengths (convenience and cheapness)

    Notice what I said under point 6: I think newspapers will shift to more magazine-like formats. I'm sorry if you love them, but daily papers just won't make much sense for much longer.

    I find it amusing that you insist they are the only source of thoughtful analysis - if you can't make so simple a distinction as content and medium then I doubt you have much insight on this topic.

    Look, I too love sitting down with a paper from time to time, especially on a lazy Sunday. I also still buy certain magazines and wear them out over the course of the month. I certainly still love books, and I love hunting through used book stores and organizing my collection and dusting my prized antique possessions and all of that. I get it. I have a box of old newspapers from major events that I'm saving so one day my kids can look at me like I'm crazy. I really do get it.

    But that doesn't change the fact that these things are going to give way to more sensible technologies. Producing mass amounts of paper isn't exactly good for the planet, and paper as a way of transferring information is not cost-effective for the companies that use it or the consumers who buy it.

    I nearly always have a book on me, but when I don't there are hundreds of books loaded onto my iPod Touch, with a database of thousands more only a few taps away. And that's damn incredible. Can you really begrudge each new generation that is a little less attached to paper and a little more excited by the myriad possibilities of digital information? The freedom, the variety, the access? The fact that it brings all the wealth of culture to the poorest corners of the planet?

    Newspapers are a luxury now. If enough people like you are willing to keep paying for that luxury, most likely paying more, then they will stick around as long as there is a market to support them. But please, don't act like the world is losing everything in the modern era just because you don't want to admit how much it is gaining.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Chris Brand, 8 Feb 2010 @ 11:31am

    Missed the point for #5

    Surely getting people to pay for creation of new content would work more like this :
    A newspaper would list (on their website, natch) a load of stories that they'd like to investigate, and the reporters that they have on staff. People could pay for particular stories to be investigated (and possibly specify which reporter they'd prefer to do the work). Once sufficient money has been gathered to cover the anticipated costs, off the reporter goes.
    Add in the opportunity to send in leads, so whistleblowers and citizen journalists can get professional attention to their stories.
    Of course this doesn't work for the "right now" news, but newspapers are always outing the "investigative journalism" side of things, which is generally not hugely time-sensitive.
    Content creation is pre-funded by the customers, and the editorial staff get a much better insight into the actual interests of their readers and what they think of the various reporters that they employ.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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