May 17, 2005
The NY Times announced today they will start charging for online content. Most of the daily paper will still be free (available for a few days before being pay per view) but op eds and special features will available only for paid subscribers. They will charge $79/year, $39/year for people who already buy a $250/year subscription .
I believe the Times is making a mistake and is going about this backwards. Right now the Times articles are not indexed by google because they expire after a few days. This will continue. Premium content will make op-eds even less accessible and limit their audience. The upside, I believe, will not compensate for the loss in audience. Unlike the Wall Street Journal which thrives on a subscription model, the type of content the Times will be charging for is available elsewhere on the net and the subscriptions will generally not be covered by corporate expense accounts.
What is the right model? I believe the Times should open up it's entire archive for free to the public. Make it searchable and indexable. Then The Times should sell micro-ads on keywords, specific stories, or on themes. Given the depth and breadth of content available (ie it's not just news) I believe the profit potential is staggering (cough, cough, google, adsense, record profits). As a side benefit the Times would become relevant on the web (right now as far as it's google and the other search engines are concerned it's completely invisible) and will gain readership not just by pushing news daily, but as a historical and cultural archive.
But the Times (and other major papers) do not think this way and we are all the poorer for it.