Half of the 1.6 million weekly copies of The Economist are sold in North America. After next week, that circulation will drop by one. I’m calling it quits.
My infatuation with the weekly newspaper, as it refers to itself, began in 1981 when I was holed up in a German hospital for two weeks and happy to have something to read in English given my rusty German. I delighted in its urbane, snarky writing style as well as its breadth of coverage. Not only did it publish stories from places few other publications dared tread, it went deep into science and technology and dabbled pleasantly into literature and the arts. There was always something worth my time and money.
Since then I have been regular reader and with few breaks a steady subscriber. I like that it publishes its stories without bylines. Here in the U.S., media companies turn their hacks into stars in print and on television. As a result we are burdened with people who can barely report the news masquerading as journalists, offering either unfiltered versions of government viewpoints (think Judith Miller or David Gregory), purveyors of the Beltway’s common wisdom (Thomas Friedman and Bob Schieffer come to mind), or simply game show hosts tucked behind news desks (George Stephanopoulos and Katie Couric, to name just two). Being a talking head is a long way from being a solid, unsung journalist.
I appreciate that the ideology of The Economist is worn on its sleeve. Capitalism is good. Socialism is bad. Globalization is good. Labor unions are bad. Corruption is always the fault of politicians. Corporations are merely doing their best to compete in a dog-eat-dog world. One never has to stretch intellectually to guess which side the publication will support on a given issue.
It’s so predictable that you’d think the editors never read the news stories inside its pages. Every week the newsweekly reports with notable clarity how denizens of Wall Street and The City rip off consumers and nations. Each issue reports details about how corporations exploit workers, the environment, and their home countries. But any attempts to rein in business through regulation and reform are met with skepticism and often disdain.
For years, I accepted the knee-jerk ideology of its editors because the news inside was generally ideology-free. Also, it covered the world at a depth and breadth unavailable elsewhere on the printed page. And I did so much love that printed page.
Now I’ve changed. I prefer my news digitally. BBC.com, Al Jazeera in English. USA Today. New York Times and Los Angeles Times online. And so many other sources deliver more than enough up to the minute news from around the globe that the value proposition of The Economist no longer makes it competitive.
Given the complex subscription options publishers intentionally apply to their magazines, determining “the best” rate a reader can get is difficult. But the basic annual price for 51 issues of The Economist is about $125. The news sources mentioned above don’t cost me anything. And I can still get excellent analysis of events in print from sources like The New Yorker, Harper’s, and other magazines I subscribe to.
I think the capitalist editors at The Economist would applaud my rational, self-serving, free-market decision. I suspect more of its 1,599,999 other subscribers will eventually follow suit.
© Mark Everett Hall 2011