NY Times Paywall Plateaus

from the growth-business? dept

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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Comments on “NY Times Paywall Plateaus”

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Michael Long says:

More content bias...

So asking to get paid for producing original content is “locking up the content”? Figures.

Personally, I don’t know that it’s a “growth” market (and I suspect you don’t either). After all, just how many people are really interested in the viewpoints of columists working for a single cities’ newspaper? And one other than their own. (An answer can be found here by looking at the subscription numbers of the NYT delivered outside of NY.)

So assuming that the people of Denver aren’t going to have a major –or even minor–interest in NYT editorials, one has to wonder if it is in fact a “growth” market, and if enough additional “outsiders” would visit to make losing subscription sales worthwhile. Especially if they manage to hang on to their subscribers, and as such generate year-over-year revenue from them.

Frank Gilbert Slinkard (user link) says:

Re: More content bias...

Michael Long asks “just how many people are really interested in the viewpoints of columists working for a single cities’ [sic] newspaper?” He may be right, of course, but the New York Times surely sees her columnists, and expects them to be seen, as more than the employees of a single city’s newspaper. (The editorials of the Times are available for free, to anyone registered online, in any event.)

The Times plainly expects people nationwide to pay for access to her regular op-ed columnists, as she has always considered them national — or, in her proudest moments — international, in stature.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: More content bias...

So asking to get paid for producing original content is “locking up the content”?

It most certainly is when it was available for free online for many years. To take something that once was free and put it behind a pay wall? Yeah, that’s locking up content.

Personally, I don’t know that it’s a “growth” market

The NY Times is certainly positioning it as one… it doesn’t matter what I think it is. It’s what they are claiming it is.

So asking to get paid for producing original content is “locking up the content”?

I think you’d have to look long and hard to find someone who thinks of the NY Times as “one city’s newspaper.”

Ray Trygstad (profile) says:

Check Other Newspaper Sites

The kicker is that some of these columnists are syndicated and their columns can easily be accessed on the sites of other newspapers that carry the syndicated content; even if they are not, many papers will pick up a NY Times column, particularly if it is controversial, and then will also run it on their site. In recent months I have had little or no problem finding NY Times columns in their entirety elsewhere on the Web. Every time I did this represents a lost ad opportunity for the Times.

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