Why you can still sell newspapers

Talking to Sam earlier, she wondered why the Times Educational Supplement here in the UK can still sell newspapers every week. For Americans, non-teachers, and other aliens, everyone who buys the TES in the UK is a teacher, and the reason they buy it is because that’s where all the teacher jobs are advertised. The TES people might believe that everyone buys it for the quality journalism, but they’re kidding themselves; most (or possibly just some) of its readers do read the articles, but everyone buys it for the job ads. And all the jobs in the TES are also available online, for free. So why do people buy the newspaper? There are three reasons why.

  1. It’s easy to read and understand a newspaper. Websites are more difficult to find things in. This is 30% of the reason.
  2. Newspapers are a lot more convenient; you can read them over breakfast, or roll them up and throw them in your bag, or read them on the train, and you can write on them, and take just the bit you want, and they never run out of batteries. This is another 30% of the reason.
  3. Newspapers aren’t a computer. Computers are basically bad things that annoy you and break a lot. Computers are not useful and not fun. This is the last 40%.

All the work that all the web people are doing goes to fix point 1 only. Point 2 may go away with magical new technology like RadioPaper or similar, but not for ages. Point 3 will go away twenty years from now when my daughters’ children don’t find computers weird. But remember when the next big web thing comes along — Ajax, Firefox, Opera Mini, CSS — that it’s only fixing a third of the problem.

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