Flexible Or Paradoxical? Why The NY Times' Plan Is Inherently Self-Limiting
from the putting-business-lines-in-conflict dept
The New York Times has followed up on their initial coverage of the choice to go metered with a column by David Carr discussing the move. It’s worth reading, and though there are a lot of points he makes that I can’t really speak to, there’s one section that I think highlights the flaw in the plan:
“The decision announced Wednesday morning represents a hedge, an operating model that puts maximum flexibility in the hands of the leadership of the newspaper. As the digital czar Martin Nisenholtz said over and over in a meeting about the decision on Tuesday, “the idea is to maximize revenue” with an eye toward the cyclical state of the advertising business. With Times Select, The New York Times lost eyeballs at precisely the time when sheer tonnage of readers became the defining metric in advertising. By building a metered system, the executives have installed a dial on the huge, heaving content machine of The New York Times. Access can be gradually ramped up or down depending on macro trends in the market. Given the dynamic state of the advertising business and how quickly things change on the Web, not so dumb when you think about it.”
Sounds great, right? Except that where they see flexibility, I see conflict. They’ve saddled themselves with two opposing business models: the old one, where the audience is the product and the advertisers are the customers, and the new one, where news is the product and the audience is the customer. The “dial” is going to become a tug-of-war between an advertising team that wants more eyeballs to sell and a subscription team that wants more walled-up content to sell. It will be virtually impossible to make business decisions that are good for both sides, and by trying to have the best of both worlds they may end up with no growth for either.
One could argue that this conflict has always existed in news organizations, but it’s never been as charged as it’s about to become at the Times. In the past, readers were readers, and increasing circulation was always the number one goal. But a newspaper that sacrifices casual readers, challenges the loyalty of dedicated readers and reduces its value to advertisers, all in one fell swoop, and succeeds? I’ll believe it when I see it.