Vintage innovation

The New York Times today launched a print-only series of fiction excerpts, aimed at maintaining the must-buy status of its highly profitable Sunday newspaper. The inaugural piece is from Colson Whitehead’s newly published and celebrated novel “The Underground Railroad.” It is published on 12 broadsheet pages of premium newsprint and not available online.

An editor’s note says that while they at the NYT are “excited by innovations like virtual reality and digital storytelling, we also recognize the lasting power of the broadsheet.” This is a special design, editor’s note says, “to artfully explore the uses to which that format can be put.”  (Tangled phrasing is in keeping with the vintage spirit of this innovation, don’t you think?)

Since there is no link to provide,  I will further quote editor’s note. “It is a special ink-on-paper product, one not available in digital form. It is finite and tactile; to read it you must have gotten your hands on the Sunday paper.”

A full-page ad on the back of the section touts the upcoming Broadway revival of “The Front Page.” No doubt this defrays the cost of pricey newsprint and what I’m guessing was a significant fee to Mr. Whitehead for the content.  The ad, fortuitously or not, also celebrates the printed newspaper. It’s a great read in itself, designed as a 1928 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune and featuring pithy blurbs from rave reviews by Robert Benchley in Life magazine, E.B. White in the New Yorker and J. Brooks Atkinson of the NYT.

This celebration of literature reminds me a bit of the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal. We launched PRJ in 2012 to super-serve a niche audience. The weekly literary journal was delivered through separate subscription along with an original short story or excerpt printed in booklet form, and access to a live authors series.  It began as print only, morphed into print- and digital formats and now is digital only.  I believe the Chicago Tribune considers it a moderate success.

The NYT Magazine’s long fiction excerpts will be “an occasional series,” editor’s note says.  Fingers crossed that a sustainable model emerges.





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