Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

get yer red-hot news here

Yesterday Jack Shafer had a weirdly grumpy column in which he rags on the Kindle for, among other things, not doing video. Why a book-reading device should do video is not a question he answers, or even mentions. Ditto with his complaint that it doesn't have a touchscreen. Shafer wants the Kindle to be a PC and thinks every PC feature it lacks constitutes a bug, whereas I’m inclined to think that most of those absences are features.

But enough about that. Shafer goes on to praise the New York Times’s application Times Reader, and spends much of the column thinking about ways newspapers can come up with an “iTunes for news,” a program (or range of programs) that in a post-newsprint world will get people to pay for their news. Shafer concludes:

Why should a customer pay for newspapers online when they can get them free via the Web? Well, why does anybody pay for a print newspaper when they can get it free via the Web? The first answer is that despite the wonderfulness of the Web, the print version still does many things better than its electronic cousin. If you read newsprint, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, I can't explain it to you.

Okay, fair enough, I guess. Shafer doesn't have to explain anything to anyone. But if the news companies themselves can't explain to readers why they should “pay for newspapers online when they can get them free via the Web,” they’re screwed.