Bye-bye WSJ print, but not for reasons you suspect

In 2014 when I wrote this post, little did I now it was foreshadowing not just the end of WSJ in print, but the death of print altogether. Here’s an update.

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Why did the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) want me to cancel my print subscription? When I cancelled it in 2014 after 25 years, it wasn’t because I no longer enjoy reading the print edition, but because of the way it has been delivered to me since January. Saturday’s delivery was the final straw.

When I arrived that morning at the office to pick up a few things for the weekend, I looked for the Journal in its familiar plastic bag. When I saw it, it looked thin. Then I noticed papers strewn throughout the parking lot. I thought, “They might have picked up the garbage, and the wind had blown some of the garbage out.” It happens. But when I picked up the Journal, a sinking feeling came over me: I knew instantly that it was my Journal that was blowing all over the place – and I mean all over. In the water puddles, snow banks, bare trees. Everywhere. “How the heck did this happen,” I asked myself? I mean, the advertising was still in the plastic bag, but the Journal itself was gone – blowing everywhere. I felt like Chevy Chase in the movie Funny Farm, where it was a mail delivery problem.

Since January, we’ve been calling WSJ about delivery issues. I’m not going to go into them, but when we finally got them to go to the right door with the paper, we’d find it everywhere except by the door – in the flower bed full of snow, near a window 10 feet away from the door. Then this happened on Saturday. And remember: this is after years of really good service. Something had changed.

Now, WSJ would not give us the name of the delivery person or method to contact them, because I wouldn’t mind having a chat. Sometimes rational discussion (and a few bucks) helps. So, I really had no choice and issued the order to cancel the print and keep the digital.

The question is, does the WSJ want me to move away from print into the digital world?

When I asked that in 2014, I knew and wrote about a lot of discussion about print and digital publishing  Even NYT Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. says print is going to be around longer than desktop. But if WSJ did want to kill print (or foresaw the end of it), I can think of ways to do it rather than hiring yahoos to frustrate its customer base.

Of course, it could be me. It’s not like this has happened to anyone else – or has it? We think when something happens to us that it only happens to us. But if you’ve been around long enough, you realize that if it happens to you, it’s probably happening to others. The real question is, why?

I wish I knew. I loved WSJ in print. I loved to browse it and let the stories and headlines guide my weekend reading. I never read with a purpose, except to learn. That’s really the best reading sometimes. I will try to do that digitally, but it will not be the same. You see, that’s really the difference between print and digital: print is real. You can touch it, feel it — even in the snow.

The other real difference is that when you read digitally, it is generally with a purpose: you put something in the Google search bar and depend on Google to give you results. And while the same can be said of editors who edit the WSJ for news content, the reading is really reversed. Dan Okrent makes the arguments in his essay, The Death of Print? Okrent, who knows about such things since he was named Time Inc. Editor-at-Large in March 1999, makes compelling arguments that factor into your thinking about the end of print.

For those interested in a deeper dive, there’s The Death of Print? The Challenges and Opportunities facing the Print Media on the Web, a 96-page paper written by Kimmo Lundén as a Reuters Institute Fellowship Paper, University of Oxford. This heavily researched paper (including interviews) concludes “Newspapers are Not Dead.” However, when is the last time you purchased a print newspaper?

I rest my case.

One upside to this death  (there’s always an upside even in death if you can figure it out) is that the delivery person can’t throw pixels around the parking lot. Or can he? Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of pixel throwing going on these days!  Maybe some things really don’t change! What do you think? Let me hear form you.

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2 thoughts on “Bye-bye WSJ print, but not for reasons you suspect

  1. Hey Jim – I’ll save some of my remarks about print and digital for another place. But about newspapers: I’ve always preferred print over digital because the reading experience is different. It’s leisurely, and I find myself reading stories I would likely skip in a digital format. That makes me feel more well-rounded and informed.

    I was a newspaper carrier when I was a kid – back when papers had more heft to them, thanks to all of the ads and content. I always made sure to respond to customers about where and how their paper was delivered. So there’s something very wrong with WSJ’s system … and that’s a real shame.

    1. Thanks, Paul. Like you, I’m a print guy, but that urge publishers are having to abandon print is a real shame. Thanks for your tomment!

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