Print Media Deathwatch: NYT Ponders (Again) Charging For Online News

Feb 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: General, The New Media Update

Venerable newspaper The New York Times is considering charging readers for access to its website, less than two years after discontinuing an earlier Times Select online-subscription service.

In an online question-and-answer session, Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor, discussed how the newspaper has been debating whether to charge for online access to the newspaper’s content:

As most of you know, a few years ago The Times introduced a subscription service called Times Select. We put our columnists and our archives behind a wall and charged admission to anyone who was not a print subscriber. Times Select generated something like $10 million a year, which was real money, but in the end the company calculated that we’d be better off taking down the wall and letting the flood of additional visitors to the Web site attract advertising dollars. The lesson of that experiment, however, was not that readers won’t pay for content. A lot of people in the news business, myself included, don’t buy as a matter of theology that information “wants to be free.” Really good information, often extracted from reluctant sources, truth-tested, organized and explained — that stuff wants to be paid for. So far, it gets paid for mainly by advertisers, but a lively, deadly serious discussion continues within The Times about ways to get consumers to pay for what we make.

Keller goes on to talk about three frequently-discussed revenue models:

  • A subscription model in the mode The Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, with some premium content “behind the wall.”
  • A “micro-payment” model, where the user is charged “a few pennies” whenever they click on a page.
  • Content delivery via “new reading devices” like the Kindle. “The Times currently makes a modest amount of money selling a downloadable newspaper for Kindle users and for subscribers to a service called Times Reader.”

The suggestion comes amid growing reports of the newspaper’s financial difficulties. A declining world economy and dwindling advertising revenues are hitting the newspaper industry hard. The Times recently announced that it would use its landmark headquarters building as collateral for an operating loan.

The Q & A article is thought-provoking, and worth a read, not just for the discussion of changing revenue models for the Times. Keller also voices opinions on what he calls the “diminishing supply” of “quality” journalism, as more print media lay off reporters, and more “voices [bloggers?] riffing on the journalism of others.”

In related news, Bloomberg says that New York Times “has hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to help sell its minority stake in the Red Sox and is in talks with investment company W.P. Carey & Co. for a sale-leaseback deal involving its main office that could raise as much as $225 million.”

Image: Thomas Claveirole

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No Responses to “Print Media Deathwatch: NYT Ponders (Again) Charging For Online News”

  1. Locama Anandamine says:

    They need to forget about the idea that access to news is worth what it used to be and scale their news operations so that they can be profitable based on Internet income. They also need to forget about micro-payments – everybody hates them and they’ve never worked on any broad consumer scale.

    They also need to look for services that people will be willing to pay for.

    How about an awesomely powerful New York Times iPhone app?

    How about access to “enhanced coverage” with the source interviews, author’s notes and unpublished photos?

    How about offering subscribers a personalized view of the news, with geotargetted information and a customizable new page?

    These are the sort of things people might pay for. If they just try to charge for what you can get for free at other sites, they’ll disappear from Google and dig themselves a deeper hole.

  2. Ross James says:

    Enough of this “crying on your sleeves”. As it’s surely time to…. “let the games begin”. Never-mind about the litany of please “feel sorry for us” type articles written (as above), that seem to have gone on forever, telling readers of the (so-called)……. “quandary that we are in”.You make your own beds…

    Roll up the sleeves and start to think globally about that (each and every) individual newspaper’s problem and fully embrace that age-old…… “united we stand – divided we fall”, type mentality.

    Yahoo head up a newspaper consortium of some 850 odd US publications. are said to have over 20,000 Global newspaper publisher partners. And now a growing Mochila network of websites from within the US and Global (that they claim), spans over 1,200 members that reach an audience of over 150 million unique monthly visitors.

    Come together. Co-pete.

    Bring (“glue”) them ALL together with a single (established) and proven simple ‘book-marking service’ such as that of Looksmart’s, that is sitting there with a “buy me” tag on it, waiting for a suitable buyer to come along. Then trim-up/off existing ‘saved’ content, certainly any that’s considered as being excess to a global consortium’s requirements. As any new owner would be entitled. (The NYTs’ own Times Select can also vouch for the [it’s own] successful use of it). Make it ‘universal’ (and available) to all those Global sites in a (now) Global Village of newspaper publishers where “users” from all over the world can then get to “verticalize” content from any chosen newspaper, from all over the world.

    Quickly get to then see the indexing of the most popular results (of each and every article or, topic) based on ‘user’ appeal, on a Global basis. And all sites are to/would then carry the usual “read more on this topic” button or, prompt at the bottom of each article on all (global) newspaper sites. Let users read what they please, when they please to and from where they please to. The “cream” of articles will always come to the top.

    Embrace the Global Exchange concept that’s already comprised of Ad Networks that are established and are operating in each “geo-locality” of all newspapers, within this (by now), Global Village. Global Brands and Advertiser in general will learn (very quickly, too) to ‘up their bids’ for quality articles and much better ROI’s in their doing so. To have their own ‘product or, service’ prominently displayed in their desired, respective, ‘geo-target’ areas of choice.

    Enact ACAP and in such strong fashion, and with infringement cases strongly highlighted with a kind of coverage, with strong penalties, that will ensure that any such offenders are not likely to re-offend too often again. And wasn’t it from within the Tom Curley’s speech to ONA where it was so famously stated, that “Content will be more important than its container.” And that : “Google is a brand killer. People find what they want from any source and don’t credit or remember the source”. Start to dictate your own terms to the likes of Google ‘et al’ and then (only then), will rightful revenues return to the source, in relative proportion. And be sure to accredit a small percentage portion of any Ads revenues generated onto the referral “link” from where a user has come to any site from, as is applicable. The ‘viral effect’ of the doing of such, will result in an even more “busier than a bee” Blogger (registered in the system of course) then, happily referring links to an original source and a FULL and proper story, accordingly.

    Ross James. – Disclosure/LOOK shareholder

  3. The one system that everybody hates is probably going to become the leader, WHEN the micro-payment method is made sufficiently transparent. (That means the financial service firm doesn’t currently exist without the greed to gouge the consumer for it. (I suspect that the micro-payment will be handled by the ubiquity of cell phone accounts which get ‘filled up’ occasionally, like in the Far East, and deplete based on usage with the cell phone company being responsible for the point-to-point transaction [just like they currently are but instead of minutes, they handle currency.])

    You can get the “title and synopsis” for nothing (and its all indexable by Google) but actual content with detailed information comes at a price, a low price but a price none the less.

    That insures that the casual surfer can find out that “things happened” (which he could get from reading synopses,) but when that person needs to find out more, that comes at a price.

  4. Bill Grady says:

    It’s hard to compete against “free”, which is the lesson I thought they learned the first time. While there are some unique features that only the NYT has for the region, the vast majority of news content can be found on the web for free and that’s why the paid online subscription model will fail again. The only possible way it could work is if every major news source did the same thing and the reader had no where else to go, and that’s not going to happen.

    This is definitely an industry that is not only in trouble, but is beginning to fracture in it’s ideas and leadership. Take for example the start-up this week by a handful of newspaper executives who at the moment are offering no more than pro-newspaper slogans. Today it is an industry that is chasing it’s own tail.

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