Is the typical New York Times reader so old that he’s having trouble walking, seeing, and even going to the bathroom?
That’s the impression conveyed by a recent series of advertisements in the newspaper that seem targeted at a demographic that might politely be phrased as “aging baby boomer,” but that more bluntly might be described as decrepit.
“New alternative to adult diapers and catheters sets men free,” is the headline over one half-page ad that appeared in both the Monday July 28 and Monday August 8 editions of the Times. The ad emphasizes repeatedly that the device is “covered by Medicare,” the government health insurance program for the elderly that usually kicks in at age 65.
A few pages later in the August 8 paper is a quarter-page ad for what looks like a cane. The ad calls it a “walking stick,” not a cane, but notes that it has a “special handle” designed “to ease joint discomfort.”
And if those weren’t enough, the July 31 Sunday Times magazine carried a half page ad for a table lamp headlined (in large type): “My eyes aren’t what they used to be — this is like reading in sunlight!”
The newspaper advertising business is so lousy these days that the Times is probably happy to get ad dollars from any source willing to pay. Times Company advertising revenue declined to $271 million in the first six months of 2016 from $648 million in the first six months of 2009, though the numbers aren’t directly comparable because in 2009 the Times Company still owned some regional newspapers like the Boston Globe, which it has since sold, and because the economy in 2009 was in the midst of a financial crisis that adversely affected newspaper advertising. Times ad revenue was down 9.3% for the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015, and the New York Post reported this week that the money-losing Times Co. is considering cost-cutting measures.
The Times online media kit claims the “median age” of its newspaper readers is 43 and for the readers of its Sunday magazine is 54. Even the NYTimes.com audience has a median age of 48. The median age reported for the newspaper readers may be skewed somewhat younger because the Times offers some newspapers at a substantial discount to college students and for in-classroom use.
A Times spokeswoman didn’t answer an email requesting comment about the ads.
What does it all mean for the future outlook of the Times print newspaper?
I used to work at the English language version of a Yiddish newspaper, the Forward, where the dark office humor held that “the average age of our readers is dead.”
The Forward has kept publishing for a dwindling audience, but, unlike the Times, it isn’t a public company with shareholders. Those aging readers may have money to spend on things like reading lamps and canes — or “walking sticks.” But they won’t be around forever, a fact the Times will have to reckon with if it wants to survive as an institution without becoming as decrepit as its readers.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK Conservative.”