Newspapers Struggle to Get Readers to Accept Digital Editions


Ten years ago, we might have expected newspapers to switch from printed paper to all digital editions. Here’s why they haven’t.

Newspapers want their subscribers to switch over to digital editions rather than the traditional delivery. But they’re having a tough time selling some of their most loyal subscribers on that idea.

My folks have been having a big dispute with their local newspaper. It seems the paper can’t seem to make the paper arrive at their home. Last week, they received two papers out of five weekday editions.

Mom regularly calls the newspaper’s subscription office to report yet another missing paper. The newspaper won’t give a refund or a discount on the next renewal. Instead, they extend her service to make up for the missed paper.

They may not see the problem with that reasoning. But my parents and I do. What good is a lengthened subscription when they can’t guarantee delivery to begin with?

Resistance to digital-only

For several of my relatives who are over the age of 70, they like the physical paper. They’ve read the paper edition for all of their lives.

Technology offers them an alternative presentation of the same information. But technology can be intimidating. 

My mom has no interest in subscribing to the digital-only version of the paper. 

She has an iPad and loves it. She checks her email, visits Instagram and even plays games — Solitare and Soduko mostly. Sometimes, she visits news websites as well.

She could certainly handle reading her local newspaper that way, but she prefers the print edition.

All the while, she complains about how much they now charge. She also complains about how much physically smaller the paper is. The last time I picked up a copy of their paper when I visited, I was shocked at how much smaller the pages were and how much thinner the paper was. In fact, the entire paper these days is about as thick as what the “A” section used to be when I was a kid.

Times definitely changed.

I suggested recently when she said they yet again failed to deliver a paper that she change her subscription. 

She was adamant that she didn’t want digital-only. She wanted the paper.

But here’s the thing: she’s not getting the paper. Her choice, given the paper’s apparent inability to actually deliver it, is to either continue missing it or guarantee she’ll have the information on her tablet.

After all, as much as she may want the print version, most of the time lately, she’s not getting it anyway.

It’s folks like my parents newspapers have to worry about. While younger readers have no problem getting their news online — from a newspaper’s website or app, for example — it’s the older readers who prefer the paper.

For people under 50, fewer than 5% prefer to get their news from print. But for people over 65, that percentage jumps up to 25%.

It’s also the older readers who are the most loyal audience.

Tennessee newspaper tries different approach

Arkansas’ largest newspaper, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, came up with an interesting solution to try to get readers to embrace digital editions.

They gave away tablets then sent tutors into the community to show readers how to actually use them. They worked one on one with their readers to help them adjust to the digital transition.

They’re not the only one to try such a tactic, The Washington Post reported. Consider The Chattanooga Times Free Press, which similarly distributed tablets to readers. The readers keep the tablets as long as they continue paying $34 per month for the paper’s digital version.

If $34 per month sounds like a bargain, that’s because it is. Digital editions of newspapers tend to be drastically cheaper than their print counterparts. After all, the digital editions don’t have the print and transportation expenses the paper version carries.

Here in Charleston, for example, the print edition of the newspaper costs $27.48 per month. Billed monthly, that comes to $329.76 per year. The print edition comes with free digital access.

But the digital-only package is less than $10 per month, billed annually at $118.56, well below half the cost of the print edition. 

If you face the same situation my mom does, in which the newspaper can’t seem to get the paper copy to your door anyway, going digital isn’t only saving money, it’s also guaranteeing you’re actually getting what you’re paying for.

Sooner or later — probably sooner than later — print editions of newspapers will become more of a rarity. A newspaper has to survive, and there will come a point at which readers will no longer have an option.

I’d rather try something new while I still have a choice than have it forced on me.

Every newspaper won’t be able to afford the tablet giveaway option.

But every newspaper won’t be able to afford to continue with print just to appease a shrinking customer base that prefers it the old way.

Something, sooner or later, will have to give. I’m afraid it’ll be the folks like my mom, who’ll one day get her news exclusively online rather than on paper.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

1 Comment

  • I get the Hartford Courant (Tribune) digitally. I used to get the hard copy but then the Courant started to send a link to the digital edition every morning and I found that I read that before I walked down to the road to pick up the hardcopy, especially on raining or snowing mornings. So now I just get the digital copy.
    But after reading the Courant for over sixty years I am ready to drop it.
    Because it doesn’t have any local news anymore. They fired just about all the reporters and rely on stories from the other Tribune papers, they don’t even write editorials any more. They just use canned ones from the other Tribune papers. I don’t want an editorial from Washington DC, I want local editorials.
    The only thing that might keep me reading the Courant is if they open their firewall to the other Tribune papers, but otherwise adiós.

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