When I lived in Manhattan in the late eighties, there were really only two main papers. The suits read the Journal, and the intelligentsia read the New York Times. The Post and the Daily News? Comic relief.
NYU’s MBA program drew me to the city, but I was definitely a New York Times reader. Growing up in the Jersey suburbs, I’d been reading it since I was 10, so that definitely influenced my choice.
I was still a ‘Times fan when I moved to the beach south of San Francisco. I called my new town barbaric, because I couldn’t get the NYT delivered to my home. Two years later, home delivery arrived. Another two years later and I cancelled my subscription for good – a combination of Jayson Blair and the internet made the paper version redundant.
But last year, much to my surprise, I found myself seriously considering subscribing to the Wall Street Journal. As a relatively new CEO, I suddenly spotted it everywhere: in my VC’s lobby, tucked into the my board members’ briefcases, and read religiously by my new head of finance. But the kicker, the thing that pushed me over the edge, was a special one-year delivery deal for $99 that showed up last summer.
The Journal had changed – I convinced myself – with a new weekend paper, the Personal Journal, and even sports coverage. Maybe it was time to give it a shot. So I pulled out a Franklin, shipped it off to New York and eagerly awaited my first issue. At first I was intrigued. Street chatter, CEO profiles, and even a book review in every paper. The features seemed well written, I reignited my infatuation with the wine snobs, and started lusting after zillion dollar estates in the classifieds. Maybe, just maybe, I’d become a suit.
In addition to the paper, I also got behind-the-paywall access to WSJ.com. And just as I started reading the paper every day, I forced myself to visit the online version, just to see what all the hubbub was about.
For the first few months, life was good. I considered that hunnie well spent. But by January, I was starting to have second thoughts. First, I stopped visiting WSJ.com regularly. Those industry specific sites already aggregated inside my newsreader, including Paid Content, the GigaOm network and Cynopsis, gave me all the news analysis I needed. My perennial home page – a customized My Yahoo left over from the first boom – kept me up to date on broad news and stocks. And after following a few key twitter users, I even started discovering breaking news before the WSJ.
The paper started piling up as well. Again, my online sources, including Mark Anderson, Fred Wilson and Mark Cuban consistently delivered more reliable analysis than what appeared regularly in the paper. And the journal’s own skunkworks – Mossberg and Swisher’s All Things Digital site – seemed to take care of just about everything else I needed.
Even the “feature” sections started growing old. The sports stories were few and rarely relevant. The meandering, badly edited essays that regularly lead the “Personal Journal” section each day were impossible to get through. And Dorothy and John Gaiter took a month off – after writing the same damn “Open the Bottle Night” column for the tenth year in a row.
And despite the timeliness promise, I was apparently still living in a backwater. When I signed my subscription, the Journal promised timely delivery every morning. But not everywhere. My daily paper showed up late in the afternoon, in the mail. Except on Tuesdays, when I’d get a bonus – Monday’s issue too. 12 hours late is an eternity – but 36 hours late is fishwrap.
But the kicker – and the final nail in the coffin – was when I received a notice to renew my subscription. The price had jumped 150% - from $100 for a year to $250. And that’s when I realized I hadn’t really become a suit at all. I’d rather have that $250 in my pocket than continue to subscribe to yesterday’s news late this afternoon – if at all.
So I ripped the letter into pieces, kissed the Journal goodnight, and went back to my online news sources. My online FREE news sources. The bloggers I follow are more insightful than the journal columnists. The news sources I read are more timely and more focused on my industry. And the real-time web – via Twitter, Facebook and the like – offer better and more timely breaking news.
It turns out I’m not a Journal suit at all. But I’m not an NYT elite either. I’m an internet omnivore – and a cheap one at at that. And there are a hell of a lot of others just like me. And that, more than anything else, is why the pay walls will fail. Better free beats late on paper – or online – every time.
(This post also appeared on Jack Myers’ Business Blogging site, as part of my regular submissions)