Kennedy, a long-time subscriber to the Boston Globe (which he calls--and I agree with him--"the most important news organization in Greater Boston"), has decided to cancel his Monday through Saturday subscription. He writes:
Why did we do this? It’s been inevitable since early this summer, when the Globe made a couple of important changes in its distribution model. First, it unveiled GlobeReader, an electronic paper that’s a faster and easier read than the Web edition. Second, it raised the price of its print edition.
Seven-day home delivery of the Globe now costs $46.56 a month in Media Nation. With advertising in what may be a permanent decline, readers are going to have to pick up more of the cost, so I certainly don’t fault the Globe for charging more. But our family is not immune from economic pressures. For us, it makes sense to go with paper on Sundays and use GlobeReader the rest of the week.
Kennedy, like all of us who consider a thriving, free press to be the backbone of a thriving, free society, explains that he has struggled with his family's changing relationship to his local newspaper. He justifies the change with his subscription to the Globe Reader (
[l]ike virtually all newspapers, the Globe is struggling with its decision some dozen year ago to offer its content online for free. At one time, newspaper executives assumed that advertising revenues would eventually justify that decision. It didn’t happen — it may never happen — and the way out of that morass is unclear. We were not about to contribute to that pain.
Though Kennedy makes no judgment here about the net value of making news content available for free online, there are those who do, who have, and who will. I am one of those people. I believe that the decision to make news content available for free online is perhaps the single most crucial factor leading to the social revolution.
Imagine an alternate scenario: back in the 1990s, at the very beginning of the internet age, news executives decide to charge--and even a micropayment will do, for this scenario--for access to online content. Communication, creation, and circulation of individual ideas and creative works are still cheap or free, as they are today, but accessing the news will cost you. In this scenario, the power of the hyperlink gets diluted to practically zero, at least for those who choose not to pay for their news. Blogging loses its widespread appeal. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, if they even come into being, get relegated to the realm of the banal: tweets about what I had for breakfast, status updates spreading my results on a series of meaningless quizzes, achievements in Mafia Wars and Scrabulous.
It's tough to imagine this alternate universe because putting a price, even a tiny one, on access to content seems nearly unthinkable to us now. Indeed, perhaps the most significant fallout from media executives' decision not to charge for content is the general public stance exemplified by Jon Stewart's comment to Walter Isaacson, a journalist and policy guy who believes newspapers should start charging for access to online content: "Sir," Stewart said in disbelief, "the internet is free."
Since the advent of mass literacy, has there ever been a time when so many people believed so strongly that information should be free and accessible to all?
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