Monday, May 16, 2005

New York Times to become a for pay web site

We're dropping way back for this entry. "The New York Times floats the idea of becoming a for-pay web site and Marcia is upset (I don't blame her)" went up on January 8th.

The Times will shortly become a pay-site.

From Yahoo, here's "Market Pulse: to charge for Op-Ed, other content as of Sept:"

The New York Times Co. on Monday said that, starting in September, access to Op-Ed and certain of its top news columnists on the paper's Web site will only be available through a fee of $49.95 a year. The service, known as TimesSelect, will also allow access to The Times's online archives, early access to select articles on the site, and other features. Home-delivery subscribers will automatically receive the service, the NYT said.

That's actually not from Yahoo. It's up on Yahoo but it's from Marketwatch. But Yahoo will get the credit. People will remember that they saw it at Yahoo. And that's a point we've covered before. But to give credit, it's from Marketwatch and the author is Carolyn Pritchard. And we'll note that credit for the heads up goes to Romenesko at Poynter Online.

What's my opinion? On the plus side, subscribers will automatically get access. In other regards? Marica and I addressed this awhile back and I said, I won't speak for Marica, everything I felt on January 8th, so we'll note it below:

First, it's not surprising that they want to charge, greed's a basic value. And we'll pick up on the greed in a moment.

But the reality is that a lot of "free" sites will probably become view-for-fee in the future. The Christian Science Monitor had an online survey (this summer?) asking visitors whether or not they'd be willing to pay for some content.

I am a regular visitor to BuzzFlash. And a year ago, I wondered what would happen to the web if and when the dailies moved to fee-to-read status?
They'd be the least effected because they have a variety of features. For instance, we'velinked to their interviews (and interview archives) and to columns exclusive to BuzzFlash (like Maureen Farrell's) and to their editorials (I'll check later for their latest one). They produce exclusive content. But what happens when and if the dailies all begin charging? I'm sure that BuzzFlash has thought about that and have a plan for if that happens. (I believe they've already announced that they will be increasing their exclusive content. The 20 editorials, one each day, leading up to the inauguration may be a part of that.)

[5-16-05 Note: As visitors to BuzzFlash are aware from last week, they're already planning additions to their site. I don't think they'll be effected much, if at all.]

But it will change the web if the dailies start charging.

How will it change this site? I already subscribe to the Times so we'll continue to quote and note. Unless I cancel my subscription (which is always a possibility). But in that case, we'll move on and focus on another paper. I've stayed with the Times despite any shortcomings due to the international coverage and the editorials. While every editorial does not reflect my personal opinion, most of them are are close to, or approach, my own personal beliefs and I can't see paying money for a paper whose editorial board is in direct opposition with every personal belief I hold.

But let's talk about greed for a moment.

The New York Times, USA Today and the Wall St. Journal have the largest print circulation in the country. (Wall St. Journal may, at some point, be asked to explain whether or not their circulation figures include papers never read but dropped off at hotels? Ones that are disposed of unread at the end of the day by hotel staff. Four of you e-mailed about that, four who work at hotels, and I did follow up on that with two visits to hotels where I asked the night staff what was done with the large stack of Wall St. Journals that remained in the lobby apparently unread.) (If this is an issue the Wall St. Journal wants to pursue -- whether or not the papers are being read -- the two hotels I visited were part of the Marriott chain.)

At a time when many papers have seen huge losses in circulation, the Times has maintained their position as one of the top three. (The largest circulation is Wall St. Journal, then USA Today, then the Times, if I remember the last round of figures correctly.)

They're being short sighted if they fail to grasp that the net has impacted their circulation. I read the Times in college. I've lived in a variety of areas, many of which the paper does not service. My most recent move resulted in an area that the paper does service so I can subscribe. But when I wasn't able to subscribe, I did visit the web site.

That kept me interested in the paper and it does the same thing for many people. It also increases the word of the mouth on the paper (good and bad).The Times should throw out their greed and think about the fact that the paper's maintained it's prominence by being available online. (Though not all articles are available online. Reading the print edition of the business section on Sundays, I've noted articles that I've wanted to send to friends. When I got online, they weren't available.) If they move to a for-pay site, they better be prepared for a huge drop off not only in terms of visits but in terms of prestige.

Marcia: "Yes, my local papers carries two or more stories from NYT each day. But most people don't notice that byline. When I, or one of my co-workers, am online at the NYT we're reading it and it's getting credit for the stories it publishes in a way that doesn't happen with syndicated stories. We know we're at NYT and we know we're reading NYT."

It's advertising for the paper. There are many people who've written this site that they never considered subscribing to the Times until they started visiting the web site online.

[. . .]

It's free and it's free publicity. At a time when many "big time" papers have lost their prominence, the Times has continued to be in the forefront. The web site has a great deal to do with that.

Do they lose money on it? I don't see how. They're advertising on the site and that should cover the people who are reading for free. (And, again, there are Common Ills members who've cited the Times web site as the reason they ended up subscribing.)

Take away your web visits and you may still have an article that you post via yahoo or some other service, but you won't be getting the credit you get when someone's reading it at your site. It will be talked about as: "Did you see that story on Yahoo?"

I won't be at all surprised if greed wins out. But the Times needs to think seriously about what's kept them prominent. There online site has helped them continue to be talked of in ways that becoming a for-pay medium will not.

Sulzberger worries about the training of future readers. He should worry more about the present of the paper.

That's what Marica and I stated back in January. I think it covers it. I think it's a mistake. It was a mistake for the Wall St. Journal when it started charging. Back then I said I wouldn't be surprised if greed won out and I'm not now that it has. But it is short sighted in my opinion. If Marcia or anyone else wants to add to this, please note in your e-mails what you're okay with being quoted on.

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