On average, Americans spend nearly $80 to $100 dollars every single month on subscription services like Hulu, Amazon Prime, and, if you’re a psychopath, Burger King’s Café coffee subscription.
There’s no doubt that the shift to digital, subscription-based services has proven to be a wildly successful business model for companies. Millions of customers will eagerly pay a small monthly fee for a product or service. This in turn provides the respective company not only consumer loyalty but the consistent cash flow that comes with it.
In total, Americans spend $2.1 billion dollars every month on streaming, and since most Americans are currently under shelter-in-place orders, that number is bound to grow. We see this with Netflix, as subscriptions recently surged as the BBC reported that the streaming giant has gained over 16 million new signups within the last three months.
The subscription model, in particular when it comes to digital media, is what keeps the lights on for many companies.
However, there’s one digital subscription service that many avoid paying for or don’t feel they should pay for: newspaper subscriptions.
In recent years, news outlets have pivoted to implementing subscription-based access to their sites in order to attract more subscribers. But it hasn’t always been that way. For decades, the print and broadcast industry was a successful, well-established business because of the influx of advertising money that kept streaming in. Before the “dot-com” bubble, one of the only ways a company could market their product was to buy ad space on either printed paper or airtime on broadcast television.
Now, advertisers will find the majority of their demographic, not watching cable television or reading TIME magazine but instead scrolling through Twitter, watching YouTube, or streaming content on the myriad upon myriads of streaming platforms we have available to us. There’s little money for companies “in” newspapers, so in result there’s little money for newspapers.
This is especially true now amidst a brutal pandemic and a historic economic recession. Companies aren’t spending as much money on advertising as they have, which means news outlets are left doggy-paddling in an ocean of financial distress.
To take it even further, consider this: Amazon isn’t going to spend thousands of dollars for ads on the Wall Street Journal’s website when their front page is telling readers about systemic corruption within the company. It’s just not the best look. You know?
The root problem isn’t necessarily advertising money though, or, the lack thereof. The issue is with us. We don’t think we need to pay for our news. And why would we when for the last decade we could hop onto NYTimes.com and get our daily digest without paying a dime?
Millions of us logon to Facebook or Twitter and grab the headlines for free, and when we click on an article and are greeted by a paywall (because, you know, newspapers have to pay bills too) we curse at the screen and move on with our day.
What’s keeping many papers afloat, especially local outlets, are readers paying for their service. Their public service.
The people who are breaking down who’s getting a stimulus check right now aren’t the celebrities we pay to watch on Disney+ but instead, the shaggy-haired, sleep deprived journalists that are combing over boring policy minutia, while wording it so we can understand what’s happening; because not all of us are lawyers.
We know how many cases of COVID-19 are in our county because of our local journalists. Sure, the governor tells us, too, but who’s asking them questions that hold them accountable?
The industry is struggling and newsrooms have consistently had to layoff staff to keep their paper afloat. In 2018, there was a 10% unemployment rate in the news media industry. That’s the worst industry-wide unemployment rate, second to the agriculture business.
Should these men and women be worried about their job security when we need them the most?
If you care about being informed and understanding the world around you, subscribe to a newspaper. Especially now, when we rely on accurate information more than we ever have before.
Ryan Martins lives in Naugatuck.