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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • What’s the Paper Worth

    March 13th, 2009 by Russell Viers

    I was in London for a week and decided to take the opportunity to do a very unscientific study into the value of a newspaper.

    London is the perfect setting for this because there are so many papers to choose from including tabloids, broadsheets, conservative, splashy, free and paid.

    So the goal of the study was simple: is a newspaper that costs 50p: A) better than a free paper and B) better enough to be worth 50p.

    My study did not take into account fluctuation in currency exchange, but keep in mind that not long ago that 50p was worth $1USD. As I type this it’s worth 70.2¢ USD. So I’m sure statisticians would add a curve or something important onto the results…I didn’t.

    So my study began on The Tube (Underground) by picking up the free papers and reading them along my way. The two free papers in the study were The Metro, where you pick them up off a stand, and thelondonpaper, which is handed to you by people wearing purple hats as you pass on the street.

    While riding along the rails, I was able to consume both papers in entirety (two different times, one paper each). They are both full of fluff that may mildly amuse and interest. Now I’m not a news snob. I personally don’t like reading politics, economics, etc., but living in such times, I think it’s important to have at least a conversational knowledge of both. Instead, from both papers I found out how the credit crunch is making us fatter, Ray Parker, Jr. is afraid of the dark and Britney Spears did something stupid…again.

    Of the two, I’ll give The Metro credit for have much more content and trying harder to be more than Entertainment Tonight in print. The issues I picked up had a wide range of stories, although not in-depth, and gave a lot of information in a tight package.

    Now to part two of the study, paying for a paper.

    Keep in mind I’m really too lazy to be much of a scientist, so my study only went as far as what was convenient for me. Therefore, I only studied papers I could pick up in the course of my normal walk…on the street.

    The two paid papers in the study were The Evening Standard and The Independent. Both are tabloid sized, just like the free papers reviewed, but obviously a little more traditional in design and content.

    As I read The Evening Standard, it really struck me how much better the writing was. Not just in style, but also depth. I also found the editorials to be very balanced, informed and enjoyable to read. In the end, when I turned over the last page, I found it to be a good read and well worth my money, whether $1 or 70.2¢.

    I grabbed The Independent on my last afternoon in London. I have to admit that the only reason I picked it up over a different title is that I was on Whitechapel Street trying to see where Jack the Ripper did his dirty deeds and I figured the guy selling the newspaper on the corner would know. As I wandered over to his stand, I fumbled about for my 50p, handed it over and asked “which way to find the area of the Whitechapel Murders.”

    He handed me the paper and pointed across the corner, explaining that most of the murders were over there, but one was back the other way. “Head that way and turn left….”

    With The Independent under my arm, my first priority was wandering around until I could say, for sure, I had been where Saucy Jack had been. After a couple of hours of aimless meandering, I headed back to Liverpool St. Station to catch the train to the airport. It was only then that I sat down at a Costa Coffee and opened the paper.

    What a great read…really. There were so many stories that interested me that I actually brought the paper home. Now you may think this is a triviality…it’s not. I was flying Ryanair home, and if you know anything about this airline, you’ll know they are considering charging a Pound to use the onboard bathrooms. Really. These are the people that charge you 1€ for the ticket, then make it up on luggage and overweight carry-ons. I knew I was at risk of paying a lot more than 50p for this paper when all was said and done.

    Luckily, no extra charges were incurred, I successfully brought the paper home and finished reading it this morning. There were a few well-written stories about Police Constable Stephen Carroll who was murdered in Ireland by IRA wannabes. There were stories about hard topics as well as human-interest stories like the computer software company that has released software that allows you to recreate the exact sound of The Beatles while recording at Abbey Road Studios. As the story goes, this company painstakingly recorded the exact instruments they used, and recreated the technology of the day so you can create music the same way the Fab Four did. Cool.

    I enjoyed it so much that if I lived in London, this would have to be a regular pick-up for me…The Independent every day.

    In the end, I don’t think my study has enough heft to be a published work…merely a short blog article. But the results are clear:

    A) The papers that charged were better papers, in content, quality of writing, originality and design than the free ones.

    B) The papers that charged were well worth the 50p paid and I would do it again.

    So as you seek out news in your community, remember that quality journalism comes with a price tag. It costs money to have investigative reporters uncovering Watergate and finding Chandra Levy’s killer. It costs money for good writing and good photographs.

    In conclusion I ask a question of all publishers who might read this article: Is every issue of your newspaper worth 50p (or your local equivelant)?

    2 Responses to “What’s the Paper Worth”

    1. Jim Brown Says:

      Thanks Russell. We’ve just been through the worst year for newspapers since I started in this business in 1962. Every newsroom should ask the question you pose every day. Once an institution in every community, the newspaper is now one of those businesses people are concerned may close. I don’t think many will, despite the situation with the papers in Seattle, Denver and Chicago, to name a few. In most cases there were extenuating circumstances (too much debt). Communities will be much poorer if the newspaper isn’t there to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly. And the story about the guy in Ohio who crashed his motorized barstool after drinking 15 beers and heading home at 38 mph. Peace.

    2. Derek Says:

      Update (8 December 2010) Since this interesting article was published, you might like to know that the London Evening Standard is now free (it still has the same comprehensive content as described) and the Independent is loosing money and may close down.

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