Most of the time, the Wichita Eagle has trouble giving away its print product. Drive down any residential street late in the afternoon and you’ll see plastic-wrapped Eagles still lying in the driveways where the carrier tossed them that morning. Then you get an historic event like the one we’ve just witnessed. Then people realize they don’t have a hard copy of what they’ve just seen unfold via the magic wall and the fake holograms of CNN. On that one day, they’re kind of glad they subscribe.
As noted in the New York Times, most newpapers saw a huge spike in demand for their post-election issues. Demand remains robust: the Eagle is charging $10 for a paper that normally goes for 50 cents — or three for $22. Other papers are peddling T-shirts with the front page on it, and framed copies to hang on your wall. They’d probably sell you some earrings, too, if the headline could remain legible. Some idiots on Craigslist are shelling out $200 for a single copy of the New York Times, demonstrating that while the Times may be hurting, the pain is not yet universal.
There’s something undignified about this, but face it: For print journalism, dignity has become a luxury. When an industry is drowning, you can’t blame it for latching on to the first thing that floats. It’s a shame that historic events don’t come along very often — guess that’s what makes them historic. For some reason, people don’t want to commemorate stories about budget shortfalls and downtown development. And they damned sure don’t want the T-shirt. Too bad. Something like that could keep the industry alive.
How about this: instead of waiting for earth-shaking news to stimulate souvenir sales, why not go hyper-local? Maybe Karl Peterjohn and his immediate family would like coffee cups emblazoned with the story of his triumph in the county commissioner race. Maybe the guy whose house was shot up in southeast Wichita would like a decorative plate to remember it by. Maybe the folks losing their jobs at Hawker Beechcraft would treasure the moment more if it were on a T-shirt.
Or maybe not. Just thinking out loud here. It’s just that newspapers need something to sell. As I can attest, the news itself is not quite getting it done.