Changing Times: A New Revenue Model Looms for The Big Apple’s Venerable Rag

One of my favorite things to do on Sunday mornings is to walk my dog to a local news stand and buy the New York Sunday Times. Lugging the ad laden paper home used to be sufficient exercise for a lazy Sunday morning but it's been shrinking ominously over the past 18 months. It's also no secret that newspaper advertising has been hit hard by the recession from ink to pixels and the New York Times is apparently close to a decision on how to charge their on-line readers for access.

New York reported this past weekend that "New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations." While hardly illogical to an old fan like myself, there's just something about this that's emotionally difficult. And according to the column "The decision to go paid is monumental for the Times, and culminates a yearlong debate that grew contentious ... The argument for remaining free was based on the belief that is growing into an English-language global newspaper of record, with a vast audience -- 20 million unique readers -- that ... would prove lucrative as web advertising matured." The upshot is that the economy hasn't sufficiently played ball for this to happen and it appears that the Times "for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe [and] The Times seems to have settled on the metered system” according to New York

The big problem will be a severe loss of foreign readership. NYT Journalist Tom Friedman said "[for]readers in India and China ... 50 dollars per year would be equal to a quarter of college tuition." And sums it up best saying "My macro feeling is that I'm glad I had this job at this time. It was great working at the paper when it was on dead trees and could pay for itself." I'll still buy the ink on "dead trees" version on Sunday mornings -- as long as it remains -- but the on-line pay to read model for "All the News That's Fit to Print" will be a terrible loss to the global community.

William Busch

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