Thu. May 19, 2005
Pay the Gray Lady, Part Two
Well, it’s official.
The New York Times announced today that it will start charging for some online content, beginning in September.
The new, premium level of membership will be called TimesSelect, and participants will have exclusive access to Op-Ed and news columnists on NYTimes.com, easy and in-depth access to the paper’s online archives, and early access to certain articles on the site, among other features.
Home-delivery subscribers will automatically receive TimesSelect membership. For non-subscribers, it will cost $49.95.Editor and Publisher: “‘New York Times’ to Start Charging for Some Web Content in September“
First off, from a purely financial viewpoint, the New York Times archives have long been “pay only,” at $1.95 a pop, so you could make a fair argument that a $49.95 one year “all you can eat” subscription has some value to it (i.e., 25 archive viewings over the course of a year at current rates pays for a subscription). But there’s a lot more to it than that.
To me, this is a complete inversion of the pyramid, an application of meat world values to a digital environment. Bassackwards.
When the rumors first rolled around back in January, I wrote about this and the effect of blocked archives more extensively in Pay the Gray Lady: “Like it or not, if you don’t exist in Google, you might as well not exist on the web. Not if you want to be a Big Boy. If you can’t be easily linked, you’re not on the web. If you close your doors to all but subscribers, you’re not just killing trees any more, you’re killing electrons.”
And you’re killing your brand. If you block access to “Op-Ed and news columnists” to all but subscribers, meaning, Krugman, Brooks, Kristof, Dowd, Friedman … all those characters the left and right of the blogosphere love to hate … then you kill your brand. These people are your buzzmakers.
Love them or hate them, people read them and talk about them. And blog about them. With links. No more, come September. That fruitful conversation which did nothing but drive traffic to your site has come to an end. Because you knifed it.
But I have a more basic question: doesn’t a newspaper create value with news? The present, not the past? What is the value of month old news? What is the point in trying to sell it? So, why doesn’t the New York Times … sell the news?
Create yer dang $49.95 per year subscription. And allow only subscribers to see anything past the front page for the first 7-14 days of publication of any news article or column. After that time, it becomes publicly available to all.
Including Google. Imagine the wide range of topics in the NYT archives that could be indexed and added to Google’s search returns. Imagine the Page Rank those articles … and sections ... would get. Just by sitting there openly on a server, imagine the traffic they would get, and therefore, the ad value for those pages.
If bloggers who do subscribe to such a service could link articles or columnists knowing that in a week or so, they’d be freely available to anyone who clicked the link, you’d get … maybe not the best of both worlds, but a respectable chunk of each.
As it is under the announced plan, the columnists and Op-Eds will cease to be talked about much, if at all, come October. And it won’t take long for folks to forget about them, as the web is filled with punditry of all types, professional and amateur. Their value to the Times on the web was in the buzz they created. But like a terminal patient, that buzz has been told it has less than six months to live.
In all the ways that count, this decision further removes the New York Times from the web. I don’t know about you, but I can take a hint.