A $1 For The New York Times Online: Evaluating My Role As a Media Consumer

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The past month or so I considered buying a online subscription to the New York Times, and the wealth of information it provides. But I postponed doing so, if I were being honest, because I balked at paying for information, much of which, I could have received elsewhere at no cost.

Today I pulled the trigger. The reason? I saw a promotion across the top of the front page that said, 4 Weeks for 99 cents. Yes, 99 cents for a month’s worth of content from this country’s preeminent news source – unless you consider sites like TMZ or Perez Hilton news sources. The price rises to $3.75 per week, or $15 per month, once the first month ends. Overall, a bargain in my book.

Purchasing a New York Times subscription or a subscription to the New Yorker or any number of magazines I read online for free has been something I’ve been thinking about as part of a larger question. That question is, what responsibility do I have as a consumer to support news organizations or entertainers whose information/art plays a large role in forming my worldview?

This is a complicated question because I do not have infinite resources, and even if I could buy every newspaper or magazine I’ve ever read online for free or every album or movie I’ve illegally downloaded, my contribution would be like a drop in the bucket. Perhaps, I admit, the second part of the sentence is an excuse. There’s still validity to it when considering my responsibility as a consumer.

The issue, as I have weighed it, goes beyond piracy and its moral implications. Morally, I am against stealing. In practice, I am a hypocrite. I steal albums, though I do pay for those I deem worth supporting even if I have already downloaded them illegally. I also steal TV shows to watch on my computer. A few years back, I even received letters from my cable provider via HBO to stop stealing one of its shows. The show in question? True Blood, I’m ashamed to admit.

Theoretically, if True Blood were to cease to exist because I illegally downloaded it and HBO could no longer afford to produce it, would I feel like I lost something great? No. (I realize that’s unfair to the people whose livelihoods depend on the show.) What if the same question were asked about a show I enjoyed like Game of Thrones, for instance?

That’s part of the aforementioned “bigger” question I am chewing on. Does my enjoyment of Games of Thrones mean I will purchase HBO before Season 3 starts? Unlikely. I don’t have cable. Hell, I don’t even own a TV. (God, what a Portland thing to write.) But … Should I support the show financially, not because I am watching it, but because I am enjoying it and want it to continue airing?

Or, should I, as a consumer, stop watching shows because I do not own a TV or can’t afford to purchase every single episode of every show I enjoy when they become available on iTunes? Should my focus on TV shows or music or anything else be more narrowed? Is the issue that we have too many choices, and thus the offerings before us should naturally be thinned out in our capitalistic society?

I know. A lot of questions. Maybe, in time, I will come up with answers. For now, I will enjoy the New York Times in digital format.

2 thoughts on “A $1 For The New York Times Online: Evaluating My Role As a Media Consumer”

  1. This is a pretty fascinating, thought-provoking blog post. I’ve been wrestling with some of the same issues.

    In terms of journalism, it gets especially weird when you consider that so much is available for free. With the New Yorker, I can read a good number of its longform pieces for free; I’m not stealing, so what’s my responsibility as it relates to paying for it? I do not know.

    And with regards to music, I”ve started buying a bit more music than in the past. Amazon MP3 makes it easy with hundreds of $5 albums every month and occasional deals in between — I copped albums by Iggy Pop and the Japandroids this week for $3 each. The songs are legally mine, which is all well and good, but even that makes me feel a bit uneasy — at $3, is the artist really making much on my purchase? How does that break down, compared to a $10 MP3 album or a $15 CD? Again, I do not know.

    In any event, you’ve raised some good questions! I think we’re getting to the point where the convenience of purchasing, say, a TV episode on iTunes or Amazon is becoming almost as easy — if not easier — than piracy. So these questions won’t go away anytime soon.

    1. When I saw the length of your comment I mistook it for SEO spam. (ha)

      You bring up a great point about The New Yorker, Matt. I thought about getting it to that, but didn’t because I thought better of asking people to read 1,000 words on my ethical dilemmas, especially on a Saturday. The late journalist Molly Ivins compared newspapers giving away content for free online to committing suicide. That seems to be proving true, although the suicide is a slow death.

      Interesting about music purchases. Should we, as consumers, be expected to pay $15 for a CD? Doesn’t that defeat the artist’s goal of having their music heard? I mean, how many people in this day and age are going to shell out $15 for a CD? If they do, they’re not going to do it for many CDs because discretionary income is limited for most people.

      The convenience is certainly there. Can you (royal you) feel the same amount of ownership from a stolen copy of something as a purchased copy?

      Thanks for your comments!

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