Spare Some Change for the Times?

So, the New York Times announced that they're moving some content behind a paywall, and of course the chorus of "oh noes!" overshadowed any other messages they might have mentioned.

First, it's only the op-eds and columnists that are going to require payment to read. Great! I go to blogs for editorial; The Times is valuable to me for being really good journalism in the non-opinion parts of the paper.

Second, as I mentioned over on the ProNet blog, the Times is trying to build an affiliate program for paid content that would help bloggers make money for driving signups to TimesSelect. That's a good thing! I know a lot of people who make a few pennies by pushing people to Amazon to buy books that aren't available for free, and this seems pretty similar. I sure can't imagine anybody is so hard up for an opinion about current events that they can't find a source without paying for it. You just might want to pay to read a particularly well-read opinion.

Now, I wouldn't be a good blogger if I didn't call out the people who disagree with me, so I'll go to my friends, since they won't get pissed off.

First, Meg says, "Clearly, increased traffic would drive increased revenue in the form of online advertising. And in the long term, I believe it would generate more income than charging US$49.95 for an annual subscription." And Matt says, "if they took down the dumb account requirement and the $3.95 archives and instead opened up the 100+ years of archives to google and the rest of the web, I'm certain the advertising rewards from such an endeavor would outstrip any of these subscription ideas."

With all due respect to Matt and Meg, we've all had about a day or so to analyze the data on this and make our knee-jerk calls about how this will affect revenues. I'm sure it's somebody's full time job at Times Digital (I dunno who, but it's somebody) to run the numbers on this. That person's probably been playing with Excel for months to figure out exactly the implications of this.

And what we do on our blogs is, instead of saying "I don't like that this is behind a paywall", we say "you'd make more money if you did what we recommend" without offering any evidence. The Times is an organization founded on journalistic standards: Do you see why they might not believe such an assertion without evidence?

I'd love to have all the of Times' content available without pay. Hell, I'd love to have it all without ads, too. That's why I pay for the Sunday Times in print, so I can read the superior presentation, even though the same content's available for free online. (I'd pay for a better presentation online, too.)

But I don't have enough information to know exactly what informed their decision, so I wouldn't presume that I know their numbers better than they do. And even if I did, it wouldn't make that much difference to most bloggers: we'll all still be able to link to the hard news stories. We'll still be able to link to content that's syndicated on the International Herald Tribune, or Boston.com, or wherever else it appears. And maybe growing their revenues will help the Times make other services available to us for free, or to help improve the quality of what they publish. I'll wait and see.

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