Sulzberger, Robinson Explain Why Readers Embrace Print

papers.jpgLess than a week after their rocky visit to The Boston Globe, New York Times Co. execs Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Janet Robinson have issued an internal memo discussing circulation at The New York Times, the Globe and some of the Times Co.’s regional papers.

Despite the fact that one reader has apparently offered to pay $70 million to access “the most important paper in the free world,” Sulzberger and Robinson assure their employees that it hasn’t quite come to that yet. However, they have been asking their readers to bear more of the cost to produce their papers. Surprisingly, readers have chipped in and circulation has actually risen at the Times, the Globe and some other regional papers.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but the news shows promise:

“We don’t mean to suggest that there have not been any cancellations or that circulation volume hasn’t declined. It has. But there have been far fewer cancellations from price increases than we expected at both The Times and the Globe. The reader retention rates for The Times and the Globe are enviable — for subscribers of two years or more, the rate is roughly 90 percent for both papers. In fact, The Times has more than 830,000 readers who have subscribed for two years or more, up from 650,000 in 2000.”

Ultimately, the readers of the Times, the Globe and the other papers “continue to embrace print” because newspapers “work,” the Times Co. execs said.

“People understand how newspapers are organized — if a story is above the fold, it’s more important than below the fold. If it appears on the front page, it’s more newsworthy than one inside the paper. Readers enjoy the serendipity of finding something new that they didn’t realize they were interested in but discovered in the pages of their paper. Newspapers are portable. They offer a point in time assessment of the news.”

This seems to be the same argument that people across traditional media have been making since the dawn of the Internet. It’s comforting to think that newspapers will always be around because they are simple, orderly and necessary. But you can’t just stamp your foot and make such claims. Luckily, the Times has seen circulation rise, so it has some data to support Sulzberger and Robinson’s claims.

There are a lot of very smart people working on new ways for newspapers to earn additional revenue, so hopefully they won’t rely on readers for too much. But until then, it looks like we’ll have to do our part to keep the print medium alive. How much are you willing to give?

Read the whole memo here.

Earlier: Arthur, Janet Explain NYT‘s $1B Debt In Memo To Staffers

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