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The Printer's Devil and other stories



It was only on my fourth visit to the Dead Sea did I master the knack of reading a newspaper while steadily lying on my back - on the water. You see, the waters of the Dead Sea are incredibly dense, because of which you cannot drown;instead, you float. So the touristy thing to do is to lie on your back on the water and unfurl a newspaper.


This is easier said than done. Floating steadily on your back requires a bit of balancing because you can't kick around the water;it is so hypersaline (33. 7 per cent;nine times saltier than the ocean) that if it gets into your eyes, it stings badly. And then, of course, there is the small matter of taking along a newspaper without getting it wet.


Well, I finally managed it, and as proof of my modest accomplishment, had a friend take photos, which were subsequently posted on a social networking site. Imagine my chagrin, therefore, when one of my colleagues remarked saltily on the aptness of the picture because the "fortunes of print (newspapers) are sinking. "


Well, not so fast, my friend. Aside from the fact that I am rather more fond of readers of the printed word (for the simple reason that their buying power, and not so much the online digital freeloader, which pays my salary), it turns out that "newspapers are rediscovering their mojo, "as a recent industry conference in New York put it colourfully. Rumors of the death of newspapers, to paraphrase Mark Twain, are vastly exaggerated, and while they may not be doing swimmingly well in the West, they are very much alive and kicking.


A recent ad from the New York Newsday newspaper is illustrative of the print vs digital battle in America. It shows a reader consuming news on a wellknown tablet device - lately dubbed the printer's devil - over breakfast. A fly is buzzing incessantly around him. Suddenly, he swats the fly with the device, shattering its screen. "The new Newsday app is better than the newspaper in all kinds of ways except for one, "a voiceover chirps. "Get Newsday, everyday, in a whole new way. "


Jokes aside, it's instructive that the Newsday ad promotes both its print edition and its digital application. The only damage done in the ad, literally and figuratively, was to the tablet, and the company that manufactures the device was so miffed that it sought to pull down the ad (instead of countering with a resilient screen).


Anyway, here's the skinny from the conference: The biggest lesson that the media - and discerning readers - are learning in the post-digital world is that "free is expensive. "You can mooch off the internet all you want, but in the long run, you are hurting yourself. Old-fashioned shoeleather reporting - and thoughtful analyses based on that - costs money, and unless someone pays up the lolly, we could end up gagging on some really dubious stuff. A lie is halfway around the world before truth gets its boots on, it is said, and the digital world makes this all the more



Which is why the more credible media wants you to put your money where your interests are. Asked if he foresaw a day when he'd distribute his paper for free, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger essayed an emphatic no, maintaining that he - and his advertisers - considers readers who are willing to pay for news "engaged people. "It is only when you pay that you demand standards and accountability.


So the New York Times has now joined rival Wall Street Journal and Financial Times as newspapers that are behind a digital frontier - a polite way of saying you have to pay to read them online. The results are encouraging;the NYT has signed up 1, 00, 000 paid subscribers since it became a paid site six weeks ago, while newspaper sales went up by another 1, 00, 000 because those who buy the print edition get free digital access. FT, which had a head start, already has 2, 24, 000 paid subscribers with no discernable dent in print circulation figures.


What all this points to is that discerning readers are willing to pay for quality journalism and credible news. The media too is learning to offer this through multiple platforms and applications. The industry as a whole is working its way back to good health, which is just as well for everyone concerned - including the readers.


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Reader's opinion (1)

punit paniaJun 2nd, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Its always a pleasure reading your features Chidanand

it cleared whatever lil' doubt I had about the continuity of print

and off course, v.well written

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