As was reported last week (and noted today in our Monday Medley), The New York Times is planning to announce that it will soon begin charging for its online content. In some respects, this was inevitable: In order to produce a product, you need to generate revenue, and it’s becoming clear to many people in high places that online ad revenue is not going to sufficiently replace the revenue from print ads.
Nevertheless, this move seems like it may come too late in the game: Readers are already used to getting the Times (and newspapers in general) for free online, and charging these readers is likely going to drive a significant number of them to other sources. It’s true that some papers, most notably the Wall Street Journal, have succeeded with a pay-for-content model, but this won’t necessarily translate for the Times. For one, the WSJ has a reputation for expertise in a particularly valued field—finance—so people are likely willing to pay more for that content. More important, though, is that the Times operates on a different standard for readership; even at the height of the financial crisis, when people turned more and more to the WSJ for their news, the Times got about 30% more unique visitors. That number would almost certainly shrink—and with it, ad rates—once the website starts to charge for content.
It is probably wise, then, that the Times is evidently leaning towards a “metered” system. Instead of a simple pay-wall, in which certain content remains restricted, the system will allow casual readers to browse for free, only charging once you overstayed your welcome. This will obviously keep some readers, but once people get tired of having their browsing interrupted, some will stop going to the Times with the same frequency. Continue reading