Kinsley's rhetorical overreach

The main point of Michael Kinsley's anti-micropayments Times op-ed--"Two bucks per reader per month is not going to save newspapers"--is well taken, and worth considering if, like me, you've previously been intrigued by the pro-micropayments argument. (Ditto for the anti-micropayments case made by Gabriel Sherman today on Slate.)

But Kinsley goes too far with another claim in his piece. Here's the passage in question:

Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc. [emphasis added]

The problem, I think, is that Kinsley is so eager to make his case that he treats reader intent as a non-issue.

By which I mean: If I decide to fork over a few bucks for the Sunday Globe or Times these days, rather than reading it online, I am deciding to pay extra for the (atavistic) pleasure of holding an actual newspaper in my hands. But if all I was getting for my money was blank pages, I'd keep my money in my wallet. It's the content available therein--and the (atavistic) privilege of interacting with that content the way I do when I hold something I hold in my hands, as opposed to when I'm staring at something on a screen in front of me--that's making me give up my lunch money.

Project back 20 or 30 years, meanwhile, and Kinsley's claim looks even more questionable. I'm reasonably sure that no one decided to budget X number of dollars to read the Globe (or the Times, or any other paper) in the late '80s because they wanted to rub some paper between their fingers. Instead--and contrary to Kinsley's claim--they wanted the *content* that was printed on that paper. And at that time, there was no other way to get it.

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