When The New York Times put up a paywall I stopped reading it. I love The New York Times, but $180 a year is outrageous for what was once free. I was even more shocked at that the same content costs even more to read on a tablet or smart phone. I found ways around their monthly page limits, but ultimately I just gave up trying to regularly read the paper. I’m not against newspapers and magazines charging money for their content, I just think it needs to be a fair price. Of course a fair price is like beauty, and is set in the eyes of the beholder. $15 a month might be the right price for upscale New Yorkers, but not to me. If The New York Times charged $29.95 a year for digital subscriptions, I’d be a subscriber. Instead I decided to go looking for other sources of news.
By the way, I have a weird concept about periodical pricing. A newspaper that produces 365 editions a year sounds like it should cost more than a magazine that produces twelve issues a year. But I can only read so much per day, and only involve with myself with so many periodicals. On average, I read about as much from a daily newspaper as I do from a weekly or monthly journal, so in my mind, they each require a reading grazing fee, which should be about equal. The difference between magazines and newspaper titles is not quantity, but quality of writing and the amount I can read. Since I can only read an hour or less a day on periodical publications, I’m not willing to spend more than $15 a month total for my newsy reading.
As long as some publishers offer free content I’m going to consider it first. The internet is full of free content, but which free source of essays and articles are the best? What content is worth paying for if it was reasonably priced? I pay $9.99 a month to Rdio for streaming digital music. I subscribe to The Rolling Stone Magazine and The New York Review of Books on my iPad. I’m open to paying for more content, but the price has to be right.
Commercial newspapers and magazines generally produce the best writing anywhere because they pay professional writers. In searching for the best content on the web, I tend to find the highest concentration of quality writing at print magazine and newspaper sites. These free sites are so good I would pay for them if I had to and the price was right.
And paywalls sites still offer lots of free content. The New York Times is very generous by allowing readers following links to read full articles. Other sites, like New Scientist suck readers in but quickly cut off the flow of free words. But even NS will offer some free complete reads.
The sample articles I use come from my Evernote clippings or from my Twitter feed, which I use to remember articles I read and like.
Far and away, my favorite free online magazine is The Atlantic. Their website provides content from their print magazine along with original content written just for the web. I subscribe to their daily updates which recommends 3-5 articles to read each day. The Atlantic’s web reporting equals their top tier print reporting.
- The Robot Will See You Now
- The Plague Years, in Film and Memory
- Think Artists Don’t Make Anything Off Music Sales? These Graphs Prove You Wrong
- 100 Years Ago, The 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade
I started noticing the Los Angeles Times when Zite frequently sent me there to read book reviews. Zite is a tablet app that does for article reading what Pandora does for music. You thumbs up and down what you read and Zite finds more of what you like. The LA Times evidently is writing more of what I like to read.
- In search of ‘The Searchers’ and the history behind the western
- The Operatic Life of Richard Nixon
- Farewell to Novels by David R. Slavitt
I can’t figure out if content for The Smithsonian is blocked or if they just end every article with “subscribe now for more coverage” to scare you into thinking there’s more to be had if you plunk down some dollars. I keep finding plenty of free stuff to read. Fascinating stuff. Actually, more great stuff to read even if I read 24×7. Here is the listing for the last March, 2013 issue. And here is the start of the archive section.
- True Colors
- The Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries
- The Meanest Girls at the Watering Hole
- The Lost Tribes of the Amazon
- Dickens’ Secret Affair
The Guardian is another newspaper that Zite often takes me to. Zite and Google links me to foreign newspapers, which is one of the great pluses of the world wide web. Zite knows I love book reviews and both the LA Times and The Guardian reviews a lot of books.
- Amazon rainforest tribe at centre of new cultural storm
- The top 100 books of all time
- World’s conservation hopes rest on Ecuador’s revolutionary Yasuni model
Brain Pickings isn’t a commercial newspaper or magazine, but it’s so professional that it should be. Maria Popova is a professional writer who has created a beautiful web site that she calls “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.” Brain Pickings is classy blog written by a professional writer with amazing graphic design skills. I wish Auxiliary Memory was 1/100th as good.
- The Age of Edison: Radical Invention and the Illuminated World
- The Best Science Books of 2012
- The Daily Routines of Famous Writers
- New Year’s Resolution Reading List: 9 Books on Reading and Writing
- 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design
John Brockman’s Edge.org is where the world’s smartest people hang out. The site is built around conversations with cutting edge thinkers, but it also focuses on the latest science books. The conversations are often a narrative overview of a current project. Edge.org is not a newspaper or magazine, but the quality of content is so great that it competes well with professional journalism. The contributors are major science writers and philosophers, writing about research on the front lines of new knowledge.
- The Normal Well-Tempered Mind – Daniel C. Dennett
- How Culture Drove Human Evolution – Joseph Henrich
- Linked Data: Web Science and semantic Web – Tim Berners-Lee
Most sites on the web are free. It’s hard to imagine that pay sites can compete with so much quality free content. My six favorite sites are just a drop in the gigantic WWW bucket. My goal is to find the right mixture of reporting that gives me the best puzzle pieces for mapping reality. All too often we read news that is immediately forgotten. I want to read articles that educate me with a lasting impact. In fact, I often think reading less on the internet is better.
Like junk food with empty calories, the web is full of junk data and empty facts. Brilliant articles that are available for all to share should have a great impact on our society. It used to be people had to buy books and journals to get quality information. Now all seven billion of us have access to a tremendous amount of free knowledge. We can all be renaissance men and women. The quest is to find the needle in the haystack article to read each day that makes a lasting impression.
Tools like Zite let me quickly review 20-30 newly published articles each day, out of thousands. But the real goal, is to find the single article that’s worthy of study, contemplation and memory.
However, there is a problem with this system. It only gets me the free articles. What if the best articles still cost money? Is the best knowledge being shared today, or withheld?
JWH – 3/3/13