There's been a lot of debate this month about the NY Times' "TimesSelect" pay service, that hides its best columnists behind a paywall, keeping them mostly out of the online conversation -- something at least a few of those columnists apparently hate (which might make you wonder if those columnists will stick around -- and if that attrition will make it even more difficult to get people to pay). Earlier this month, Mark Glaser wrote an open letter to the NY Times suggesting it "tear down" the paywall. A newspaper consultant trashed that open letter, doing some back of the envelope math to show that the NY Times was making plenty of money off of TimesSelect and should keep it up. Of course, making plenty of money now is different than making plenty of money in the future. In fact, with all the worries about newspapers these days on Wall Street, it's that very issue that comes up. Many newspapers are extremely profitable -- but there are worries about shrinking margins and whether or not they can keep it up. So, as the NYT comes out with its its latest online earnings numbers, it's worth noting that while online advertising is growing like gangbusters for the Times, its TimesSelect readership seems to have plateaued pretty drastically. Soon after the project launched, in November, the company proudly noted that it had 135,000 web-only subscribers (paper subscribers also get free access). It took two more months to get another 21,000 subscribers to bring the number to 156,000. It then took another three months to get the next 20,000 to get up to 176,000. The latest results suggest that in the month of may they probably got another 4 to 5,000, suggesting the signups continue to slow down. While it's true that online advertising probably would not match those revenue numbers today, it's worth watching the trends here. Not that online advertising is going to keep going up (despite the current euphoria over the market, it wasn't that long ago that the bottom had dropped out of online advertising), but these numbers should make people wonder just how much of a "growth" market there is behind locking up your content.
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