Times Select 2.0

Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine:

New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations. After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks. (Apple’s tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.) It will likely be months before the Times actually begins to charge for content, perhaps sometime this spring. Executive Editor Bill Keller declined to comment. Times spokesperson Diane McNulty said: “We’ll announce a decision when we believe that we have crafted the best possible business approach. No details till then.”

The Times has considered three types of pay strategies. One option was a more traditional pay wall along the lines of The Wall Street Journal, in which some parts of the site are free and some subscription-only. For example, editors and business-side executives discussed a premium version of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s DealBook section. Another option was the metered system. The third choice, an NPR-style membership model, was abandoned last fall, two sources explained. The thinking was that it would be too expensive and cumbersome to maintain because subscribers would have to receive privileges (think WNYC tote bags and travel mugs, access to Times events and seminars).

The Times has also decided against partnering with Journalism Online, the start-up run by Steve Brill and former Journal publisher L. Gordon Crovitz. It has rejected entreaties by News Corp. chief digital officer Jon Miller, who is leading Rupert Murdoch’s efforts to get rival publishers onboard to demand more favorable terms from Google and other web aggregators. This fall, Miller met with Times digital chief Martin Nisenholtz, but nothing came of the talks.

The decision to go paid is monumental for the Times, and culminates a yearlong debate that grew contentious, people close to the talks say. In favor of a paid model were Keller and managing editor Jill Abramson. Nisenholtz and former deputy managing editor Jon Landman, who was until recently in charge of nytimes.com, advocated for a free site.

Joe Windish at Moderate Voice:

I paid before. I’d pay again.

Pete Cashmore at Mashable:

The move is a gamble for the Times, which previously tried charging for content from columnists through TimesSelect — readership fell and the project was abandoned. With ad revenues not meeting costs, however, the Times is taking another shot at the paid model.

Ann Althouse:

For me, reading on line is tied to blogging. I’m not going to spend my time reading sites that I can’t blog, and I’m not going to blog and link to sites that you can’t read without paying. Currently, I link to the NYT a lot, perhaps several times a day. I don’t know how much of their traffic is sent their way from blogs, but it’s one more factor that will limit their readership. You’d think what a newspaper would want most is readers, both to influence and to sell to advertisers. I know they need to make money, but I wish advertising was the way. Once they close themselves off — as they did once before with the failure known as TimesSelect — they sacrifice readers and lose appeal for advertisers.

I know there is talk of “the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe.” If that means we can, without paying, see the front page and read a few articles (in their entirety) each day, then I might not object. That would allow me to read and feel free to blog.

Kevin Drum:

From a reading point of view, this is not a big deal to me. If I need to subscribe to the Times, I’ll subscribe to the Times. But from a blogging point of view, it’s a problem. An important part of the great Blogosphere Circle of Life™ is the ability for readers to click on links, both to get the full story for its own sake and to make sure bloggers are playing fair with their excerpts and commentary. If the Times cuts this off, it’s a big hit.

So it’s semi-good news that they’re planning to adopt the FT model, where casual readers can access a dozen or so articles per month without subscribing. At least that’s something. Alternatively, if they go with the WSJ model, I hope they provide some mechanism to provide short-term access for nonsubscribers. The Journal does this via email links, which provide public access to linked articles but expire after a week.

And of course, the big question: will it work? Will the Times gain more subscription revenue than they’ll lose in advertising revenue? I doubt it, though that depends a lot on whether the recent collapse in online advertising revenue is just a temporary result of the recession or a reflection of long-term trends.

And the second biggest question: will other newspapers follow their lead, thus bringing to an end the great era of endless free news on the internet? Or is the Times one of the few who can even arguably pull this off? Wait and see.

UPDATE: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

UPDATE #2: Michael Wolff

UPDATE #3: Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

Erick Schonfeld at Tech Crunch

UPDATE #4: Mickey Kaus and Robert Wright at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #5: Huffington Post

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2 Comments

Filed under Mainstream, New Media

2 responses to “Times Select 2.0

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