Waiting in the San Francisco Airport departure lounge late Sunday into Monday morning for a delayed flight home, I noticed that of the couple hundred people hanging around only a handful were reading a good, old-fashioned book. Oh, folks were reading, of course, or looking at something or other, but the majority were using some kind of handheld device or computer. I saw no one reading an actual, hard-copy, dead-tree magazine or newspaper at all.
Now at another city’s airport things might have been different. San Francisco is in the midst of a massive tech boom. Facebook’s initial public offering was said to have spawned 1,000 20-something millionaires. Thousands of new units of high-end housing are being built. Out to dinner at a fancy restaurant before hopping in a cab to get to the airport, I saw two of the new breed of hooded-sweatshirt-wearing gazillionaires; these kids weren’t waiting around in the morning for the daily paper to arrive.
The reality is that the hoodie crowd, to the extent that they are consuming news, are doing so online. I myself often have read something in The New York Times well before my physical copy hits the driveway gravel.
The Star, like The Times, has far more readers in the aggregate than we ever did, when you consider print and digital readers together. The puzzle is how to make the whole thing pay for itself.
The news revenue riddle is the most intriguing aspect to the news that Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has bought The Washington Post. Mr. Bezos’s company grew fat basically by putting smaller booksellers out of business and then adding retail goods. At one time Amazon extended a hand to newspapers, tentatively offering to serve as a kind of digital newsstand. Now, business analysts say that buying The Washngton Post will give Amazon a way to directly reach consumers of its other products. Or maybe he’s just in it for the fun.
What, if anything, this means for a small newspaper like The Star remains to be seen. It is nice for a day to read stories about the industry’s future rather than its decline. Looking at all those wired readers intently staring at their screens whom I saw in the San Francisco Airport, I have to think that Mr. Bezos may well have something new and interesting in mind.