Updated on 04.20.12

Read Your Favorite Newspaper Online (112/365)

Trent Hamm

It wasn’t too long ago that our family subscribed to the Des Moines Register. We enjoyed the local news for Polk County and surrounding areas. It kept us in touch with our community and what was going on around us.

The only problem was that the newspapers would build up. If you didn’t read the paper for a day or two, they would start to accumulate. If you were gone on a trip, you were probably going to face a pile of papers on your front step if you didn’t have a friend grabbing them for you (yes, you can sure tell your deliveryperson to stop putting them there for a week, but that doesn’t mean it will happen). Sometimes, emergency trips would happen and you’d come back to find a bunch of papers on the doorstep.

Not only would this amount to a lot of clutter, it would also be a sure sign that no one is home if a home intruder is casing the neighborhood.

We still wanted our local news, though, so over time we migrated to simply reading desmoinesregister.com. It’s actually one of the default pages that opens in my web browser. On an average visit, which happens a few times a day, I visit 10 or so pages on the site, each of which has several ads on it. I’m pretty sure that they earn more revenue (and more profit) in a day from me visiting their site than they ever earned from me buying printed copies of the paper.

Yes, we’re not paying for the paper at this point, but the cost of paying for the paper would largely cover the cost of delivery and the cost of the actual printing and materials related to that. Online, there is very little of that cost.

Read Your Favorite Newspaper Online (112/365)

I am very interested in supporting local news. I want to know what’s happening in my community and I get a lot of value out of that knowledge, from free local events to the politics of the local community.

However, the drawbacks of getting a daily newspaper on my doorstep – the clutter, the cost, and the potential for making others aware we’re not around – add up to enough that I’m much happier being a frequent reader of online sources for local news. Such sources continue to get revenue through online advertisements and don’t have the physical costs of the newspaper itself or the delivery mechanisms.

The newspaper business is going through a challenging time right now. They’re still transitioning from the model they’ve used for hundreds of years – selling papers by delivery and newsstands – to a model that, at the very least, embraces online sales.

Revenues are declining, but according to the study linked above, most newspapers aren’t yet bothering to sell targeted online advertisement. In other words, because they’ve not fully committed to an online business model yet, many newspapers are leaving a lot of advertising money on the table.

As a reader of newspapers, I want them to thrive online, and I’ve seen from the business models of many websites that news can thrive online. As more and more people switch to reading news online, they’ll follow their readers. Like any transition, it takes time and a willingness to try new things. They’ll get there.

From my perspective, the best thing I can do is support my local newspaper online by reading it, which I do anyway because I get value from the information there. The drawbacks of a printed paper – the clutter, the waste, the sign of a person on vacation – are enough to get me to switch away from it. The savings in terms of cost is just icing on the cake.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Katie says:

    That’s not how the revenue model for local newspapers works.

  2. SarahB says:

    FYI, the Des Moines Register announced earlier this year that they will be going to a pay wall format by the end of the 2012.

  3. kc says:

    I’m pretty sure that they earn more revenue (and more profit) in a day from me visiting their site than they ever earned from me buying printed copies of the paper.

    Really? What data leads you to this conclusion?

  4. Petra says:

    I also think that they got more money from you when you had a subscription. That doesn’t mean you HAVE to subscribe, because the times are changing indeed. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re doing them a favour.

  5. Michael says:

    They were making more off of the subscription. Best to just stick to the frugal angle.

  6. Jackson says:

    You’re going to see more and more newspapers charge to access content online. Even for print subscribers.

  7. Donald says:


  8. Johanna says:

    @Petra: Everything Trent does is a favor to everyone around him. He’s just a generous guy that way.

  9. Jesse says:

    What about the job that you create when you purchase a delivered paper? That to me is much more important than avoiding clutter.

  10. Andrew says:

    You know nothing about economics, either micro- or macro-

  11. Gary Morris says:

    My local public library has an agreement with pressdisplay.com I wouldn’t pay the subscription but for FREE its fantasic. I get thousands of newspapers every day from all over the world. I stick to my local one usually but its nice having the WSJ and NYT if I want

  12. Liz says:

    I switched to taking the print newspaper only Friday-Sunday. This way I still get the coupons and the magazine inserts I want, but less clutter and a reduced subscription rate.

  13. Misha says:

    “I am very interested in supporting local news.”

    You can SAY that all you like, but your actions tell a different story.

  14. Riki says:

    Isn’t it convenient that “supporting the news” is the same as “reading for free online” . . . do you even listen to yourself, Trent?


  15. Heather says:

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. I’m a reporter at a small newspaper that covers mostly local news, and I can tell you that your eyes are worth a lot more on the printed page than on the website. It doesn’t make sense, but newspapers can charge more for print ads than online ads.

    So no, you’re not helping newspapers in any way, shape or form. But that doesn’t mean change what you’re doing, you’re responsible for your own finances, not the newspaper’s!

    Can I ask this? Would you pay for an online subscription to your local paper? Because otherwise you’re getting a lot for free and that’s a terrible business model for a newspaper! (Though I completely agree that we in the print business need to embrace online and find a way to make it profitable. It’s not yet, largely since most internet readers won’t pay for a subscription.)

    I guess this is a long comment to say yes, reading online is a great frugal way to get your news; just don’t try to make it a ‘good thing for newspapers.’ It’s one of the reasons print newspapers are dying.

  16. Angie unduplicated says:

    The days of free content are almost over. Papers are going to an online paper with extras, and a subscription fee; some give a time limit for free access online-our regional paper allows 30 days free, then either you sign on or you’re gone. Mobile site there is free but content is extremely limited.
    One of the large Tennessee dailies now requires a subscription for mobile access.

  17. Carl Lassegue says:

    Like you said the newspaper companies will adjust and find a new way to make money in this new economy.

  18. Cindy Annie says:

    You support your local paper by subscribing, even if only for weekends. I just cancel delivery if I’m going to be away.

  19. Tasha says:

    This is not how newspapers work. People should subscribe online to get good content that will help keep the newspaper afloat.

  20. Andrew says:

    All bow down before the great God Convenience!

  21. Evita says:

    I’m pretty sure that they earn more revenue (and more profit) in a day from me visiting their site than they ever earned from me buying printed copies of the paper.
    Wishfull thinking, self-justification.

  22. Cindy Annie says:

    I didn’t know they earned more revenue …

  23. Cindy Annie says:

    … by visiting their site.

  24. T says:

    @Cindy Annie: They don’t.

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