Last weekend, a friend of mine who lives on the west coast asked me if I still received a print copy of the Sunday New York Times. She wanted a copy because there was going to be an article about her father published, and thought it would be nice to have the real deal edition as a keepsake. It was a reasonable enough request, and one that I understood, having grown up cutting out articles to save from the local paper.
I told her the truth, I no longer receive a copy of the paper in print, but said I would pick one up for her or ask around my rather large group of family and friends who live in the New York area to see if they could set one aside. After a slew of texting (including an exchange with a current NY Times staff member), I was only able to locate a single person who still receives a physical copy of the Sunday paper; a close friend’s parents graciously offered to set a copy aside. I knew most of us had gone digital a decade ago (or more) but I was genuinely surprised that even my parents, in-laws, and some of the more luddite contingent of my inner-circle had done so as well.
Even more surprising, was when I ventured out to the local corner store to pick-up a couple of extra copies for my friend and they told me they no longer stocked it. Then I hit up the Starbucks across the street – no dice. I chalked it up to the fact that I now lived in the suburbs and shrugged it off.
Low and behold, a few days later, I stumbled upon this recent piece from New York Magazine’s Curbed, which explained the state of affairs in great detail.
It used to be a mark of Manhattan sophistication that you’d read the Sunday New York Times on Saturday night. Any newsstand or corner deli received copies in the evening, and the Sunday paper, back then, was immense, eight or so pounds of newsprint. News dealers would assemble the sections and pile up the finished papers in a wall along the sidewalk. At the height of their presence in New York, in the 1950s, there were 1,500 independent newsstands in Manhattan, hawking hundreds of dailies, weeklies, and magazines, and there’s endured a belief that even with the demise of too many of those papers to list, we would always be able to buy a copy of the Times in its own city.
Just try to find one in downtown Manhattan these days, though. It’s a lot harder than you’d expect. Most bodegas and delis no longer carry it. Neither does Starbucks. A spokesperson for the New York Times Company acknowledged that the Times’ general decline in print-subscription revenue (2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021) was “driven by lower single-copy sales,” but declined to share any information about retailer counts beyond the claim that it has “broad distribution across Manhattan for both home delivery and newsstand.”