Publisher Arthur Sulzberger isn’t so sure. “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either,” he is quoted as saying.
It’s all about the Internet, according to an interview he gave at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and reported at Haaretz.com:
The Times, in fact, has doubled its online readership to 1.5 million a day to go along with its 1.1 million subscribers for the print edition.
Sulzberger says the New York Times is on a journey that will conclude the day the company decides to stop printing the paper. That will mark the end of the transition. It’s a long journey, and there will be bumps on the road, says the man at the driving wheel, but he doesn’t see a black void ahead.
This merges well with the discussion by Jason Fry at the Wall Street Journal of the difficulty in finding serendipity in the post newsprint era. He accepts some arguments about the difficulty of reading newspapers online, but not that one:
There’s one common complaint I don’t buy, however. And that’s that an online newspaper can’t possibly replicate the experience of paging through a traditional paper and having your eye alight on a story you wouldn’t normally have read. The shorthand for this is “serendipity,” and mourning its loss, struggling to recreate it or steadfastly defending it has become a ritual at every newspaper trying to navigate the wrenching transition between the print and online worlds.
But here’s the thing: Serendipity isn’t lost online. In fact, many newspapers desperate to recreate it don’t realize they’ve already done so.
This not-so-secret weapon? It’s variously called Most Popular or Most Viewed.
In general I agree with Jason, but even the most popular story links may cause me to overlook something that I would find interesting. Often I find curious or even useful stories in newspapers or magazines — even ones that may not be popular with others — simply by browsing them.
That’s not to say I mourn the potential loss of newsprint editions. As someone who travels frequently, I hate carrying more paper than I need to. That’s why I have switched to the Sony Reader for most of my book consumption, and I use online sources for most of my news needs.
But it does signal that Mr. Sulzberger and others will need to find a way to replace the essence of the browsing experience online. The Times is already working on that through a partnership with Microsoft to develop the Times Reader product (which I have yet to try).
The other missing piece is to provide subway and other travelers a means to read that content without firing up a laptop. ePaper technology like that used in the Sony Reader will need to become more available, affordable, and feature-rich to help make the transition comfortable for most people.
Kudos to the New York Times for not fearing the future. It will be an exciting ride, and as Mr. Sulzberger points out, we don’t know when it will end.