Hello, New York Times? I’d like to cancel my subscription today. No, I’m not protesting your Middle East coverage, your treatment of any ethnic minority or weird religion, and I am certainly not upset about some petty delivery problem. Nor am I angry about the gruesome picture you recently printed on Page One or your deletion of my favorite continuing feature.
I’m canceling because the redesign of your Web site, which you unveiled yesterday, bests the print edition by such a margin I’ve decided to pocket the annual $621.40 I currently spend on home delivery.
Oh, that’s not to say that I find the Web version superior in every regard. For one thing, if I give up the print Times I’ll have to find other morning bathroom reading. I’ll miss dividing the paper into its respective sections, hoarding the best sections and distributing the leavings to my family. I’ll also long for the big J&R ads that run on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. But seeing as I already read huge chunks of your newspaper online, sometimes with the print version in my lap, I might as well go all the way. Online better fits the way I live and work. Your spiffy new design is the tipping point I’ve been waiting for, and I’m convinced it will ease my transition to a paperless newspaper.
Ever since newspapers took to the Internet, most have straddled a wobbly design space that was neither print nor Web. The NYTimes.com redesign elegantly melds the two worlds. First, the home page echoes the look of a newspaper front page, capitalizing on 200 years of design grammar to say “This Is Important” and “This Is Slightly Less So.” But at the same time, it feels like a Web page. Its architecture of tabs and sections does a better job of sorting the newspaper contents into perusable categories, as a Web site should. The tabs, located at the top of the page, allow easy navigation to “Today’s Paper,” a page that replicates the print edition’s organization. Other tabs go to “Video” and “Times Topics,” which collects news and reference materials ranging from the Times clips of Nicholas Confessore to articles about suicide and suicide attempts. The “Most Popular” page collects the stories most frequently e-mailed, the article most blogged about, and the topics most frequently searched on the site. The customizable “My Times” page, launching later this month, will allow readers to aggregate content from outside pages.
Every section features its own RSS feed, and most sections break down into even smaller RSS feeds. For example, you can subscribe to the “International” RSS feed, or order thinner RSS slices dedicated to news from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. There’s an RSS feed for job listings, too. (I want an RSS feed for the corrections column.) The site has improved readability ever so slightly by abolishing underscores to indicate Web links. Instead, it uses colored text that becomes underscored when you “mouse over.”
Pages now spread out wider than Fat Joe’s ass to exploit the vistas opened up by large monitors. If you don’t have a large flat screen, order one. It will cost you a little more than half of the $621 you’ll save by canceling home delivery.
A few quibbles. A new serif body face, Georgia, replaces the old serif face, Times New Roman. That’s just a change, not an improvement. Until computer screen resolutions match print resolution, I’ll prefer sans serif on Web pages.
Most Web sites, and especially this redesign, encourage readers to jump from section to section, article to article. I’d like to see a “molasses design option” that serious readers could toggle to, mimicking the type and design tricks regular newspapers rely on to slow readers down and give them a few milliseconds to consider reading an article before paging on. In newsprint, subheadlines, pull quotes, graphics, photos, story placement, and even display advertising tug on the eye and persuade the reader to savor rather than hurry.
I’m not impressed with the “most frequently blogged” feature because it doesn’t link out to bloggers. It should copy the Washingtonpost.com’s Technorati-powered “Who’s Blogging” feature, which does link out. I’d also appreciate better and more consistent placement for the “previous issues” navigation boxes, now found at the bottom of some pages. But again, these are just quibbles.
A Web site whose content runs as deeply as NYTimes.com’s demands a tabbed browser. Mac users already have Safari. I recommend Windows users download iRider, Firefox, or some other brand like them. Tabbed browsers let you open multiple pages within one browser and quickly thumbnail them in a side pane. Meanwhile, you read your first choice in the foreground. Trust me, this is the way to read a newspaper on the Web.
James J. Cramer writes somewhat facetiously in his New York magazine column this week (“Stop the Presses“) that the New York Times should kill its print edition and go completely electronic. “Why delay the inevitable? Digital’s not the way of the future; it’s already the present,” Cramer concludes. The New York Times Co. isn’t about to slit the paper’s throat as long as it’s still pumping cash. But if other devotees of newsprint admire the NYTimes.com redesign as much as I do and vote with their canceled subscriptions, we might end up making the Sulzberger family’s decision for them.
What could deter me from my path? NYTimes.com is free, of course, except for the columnists and features partitioned behind the “TimesSelect” fence. Only print subscribers and nonsubscribers who pay $49.95 a year are allowed inside. While I believe the smartest Web strategy is to build a mass national (or international) readership with an advertiser-supported, free newspaper site, I suspect that the Times Co. has another business model. I’ll bet it will gauge reader willingness to pay for content by moving the TimesSelect fence back and forth and by adjusting online subscription fees. Depending on how the company’s business model evolves, my NYTimes.com consumption might end up costing me a couple hundred dollars a year—still a bargain compared to what I pay now.
But that’s in the future. In the short term, the only thing that will deter me from my cancellation plans is if the Times Co. makes the print edition more appealing (a few ideas here) and the Web site less. This week, the Web site is winning like gangbusters.
Disclosure: I draw my paycheck from the Washington Post Co. subsidiary that also publishes the Washingtonpost.com. What does the new NYTimes.com mean for the lonely orphan in this tale of print vs. Web, the New York Times Electronic Edition? It’s a PDF version of the paper that combines the worst aspect of print and Web but still costs $379.60 a year. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you love the Electronic Edition and want to vent. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)