“Executives of The New York Times Company said they wanted to create a system that would have little effect on the millions of occasional visitors to the site, while trying to cash in on the loyalty of more devoted readers. But fundamental features of the plan have not yet been decided, including how much the paper will charge for online subscriptions or how many articles a reader will be allowed to see without paying.
‘This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about,’ Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times Company chairman and publisher of the newspaper, said in an interview. ‘We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.’”
(Via The New York Times.)
This is a risky move fraught with danger, but I think it was basically the only move really open to them. A wholesale revamping of their business model to one without advertising would be unfeasible and fatal. The cruise ship simply can’t turn that fast. And the status quo, we know, is killing the paper. As others wiser than I have noted, advertising online is on its way out as a viable funding source for businesses. So this transitional solution is probably the way they have to go.
As Valuable as Air and Costs Just as Much
A large, professional news gathering organization is a huge cost center to pay for and it is of enormous social value. The two direct beneficiaries are an informed general public and the blogosphere where the public reflects on the news. Yet, it is something few that benefit are willing to pay for just like the air we breathe. Unless it’s in a SCUBA tank. Then those of us who desire breathing underwater do, hence the pay wall for committed Times readers.
This all begs the question: Exactly how many of us want to go deep sea diving? I hope enough. If the price is right, I would be one of them. I pay for NPR as a member and I paid for access to the Wall Street Journal Online before the paper became a tainted news property. [Editors should have opinions: the stronger, the better. They should not, however, be propagandists.] If the Times gets the pricing right, they will stabilize a hemorrhaging income source.
Critical But Stable Condition
But this, at best, is a temporary solution. The secular trend in advertising revenue will continue to fall because the underlying reasons for this are not addressed by a pay wall:
- People don’t trust ads.
- People ignore ads.
- People have other sources for the information ads convey.
So if this “solution” works, it will only buy some time for the Times. Pun intended. A real, long term solution is still a ways away.
An Apple a Day
I am certain that this announcement was made at this time for two reasons: 1) to test the waters and acclimate the public to a damaged web product, and 2) to see as print media technology will change over the next year where the opportunities are. We are now in the world of ePaper: Kindles, Nooks, and iPads (or whatever Apple is going to call their tablet). If the Times can create a solid revenue stream in these media for the paper, it may well be the long term solution they are looking for. There are many scenarios for success if ereaders become to print what iPods are to music. We shall see.