By now most of you have read that the Times is putting its Op Ed contributors behind a paid sub wall. (Caveat: I did a very brief consulting gig for the Times back in the Fall on these issues writ large).
Fifty bucks will get you “TimesSelect” – all the Op Ed columnists, plus the entire Times archive, plus some other bells and whistles like the Times email news alerts, some organizational tools, and some special editorial features. Times coverage is here. The release is here.
It’s tough to make what was once free into a paid business, and the Times is getting some to-be-expected shit for this. But I think I understand where they are coming from on this one. They are keeping most of the site free, after all, and asking that people pay for the stuff that has proven to be the most valuable – folks’ opinions.
They are also bundling a some stuff that was already paid into the price – the archives, the news alerts – and I can only imagine more will come soon. I have my own short list. To wit:
– I’d like to be part of a community. If I pay the fifty bucks, how about I get the chance to blog for the Times?At the very least, invite me to some cool Times events and parties.
-If I’m a subscriber and I have a blog, I’d like to be able to link to the stuff behind the wall. That would get serious bloggers to sign up, I’d warrant, and ensure the Times does not suffer from the same fate as the Journal.
– TimesSelect includes something called TimesFile, a sort of Furl for the NYT.com. I’d like it to be for the entire web, with a NYT filter of sorts.
The Times stated reason for doing this is to diversify its revenue mix, and I buy that logic. It’s scary to be totally leveraged over advertising. However, I think it’s justified in a web world, because margins are so much higher – subscription prices are justified by the costs of printing, marketing, distribution – in the print world, subscription revenue often simply covers a portion of your overhead. But with the lower overhead of online, there is more margin, and more cushion for down periods.
What I wonder is if TimesSelect will be considered “paid subs” by the offline print auditing services, and included in overall circulation by the newspaper. That would be interesting, if the answer is yes. Though I can’t imagine it would be, given it’s just the Op Ed columnists.
In any case, we’ll all be watching closely as this rolls out. I’ll be getting a sub, especially if it means I can link to the stuff behind the wall.
Update: Rick Stratton points me to this at Paid Content(scroll down): Quoting Martin Nisenholtz: “We also hope to roll out an affiliate program so the long tail can create a revenue stream for itself. If you’re a blogger who uses a lot of Times Op-Ed content in your blog you can continue to (by subscribing to TimesSelect)… and, through an affiliate network, extend that to their base and they can make money on the backend off that. We think the blogosphere needs more revenmue streams.”