NY Times Discusses NY Times' Thoughts On Charging For Access

from the don't-do-it... dept

A few months back, the folks at the NY Times admitted they were thinking about charging for access to their website. This is a bad idea for a ton of reasons -- including the decreasing relevance the publication will have on future news readers. Amusingly, though, a NY Times reporter is now weighing in with a story about whether newspapers should charge for access to online content. What's unfortunate is how clear it is that publishers simply don't get what's happening around them -- and how they're hastening their own obsolescence in the name of "protecting existing business models." The reporter quotes an analyst saying "Newspapers are cannibalizing themselves," as if that's a bad thing. The fact is, if they don't cannibalize themselves, someone else will -- and then they've got absolutely nothing. In a discussion about another (smaller) newspaper, the editor claims that they decided to charge "to save the print newspaper." That's backwards thinking. It's like saying a buggy maker refused to build automobiles to "save the buggy business." It doesn't work that way. As if to prove that, the article notes that paper subscriptions are still decreasing -- though, this is hidden quietly at the end of that section. Meanwhile, the article includes other misunderstandings about other newspapers. For example, the Washington Post claims that the current registration process is great because "you're getting information from your users and you can target ads to your users, which is more efficient for advertisers." Except that's not true. Plenty of studies have shown that newspaper registration files are filled with dirty data, often doing much more damage then good while also opening them up to legal liability by presenting data to advertisers which is likely filled with false information. The problem with newspapers these days is that they're missing two very important cultural changes. First, is that there no longer is a captive audience. If you don't make it easy to work with you, then people go elsewhere quickly. That means registration or charging drives people away for good. Second, is that many people no longer view the news from solely the consumer perspective -- but also from the ability to share the news with others -- and registration and charging makes that more difficult as well. For example, the link above to the NY Times article is actually to a reprint of that article at CNET, because there's no registration requirements there, meaning we're more comfortable linking there than to the original piece at the NY Times itself.
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  • identicon
    slim999, 14 Mar 2005 @ 6:57am

    Gating content

    Mike,

    As a former newspaper publisher and current geek, I've followed this trend with more than a passing interest.

    And of course, you've highlighted the absurdity of the NYTimes charging for content that one can get, word-for-word, free, elsewhere.

    The New York Times (with the exception of its Sunday edition), is 75% wire copy rewritten to throw in a few local boobs commenting on it.

    The comments always reflect whatever the reporter's inherent biases are. The reporter then slaps his byline on his "scoop."

    (Of course, Jason Blair didn't even bother to actually interview REAL people.)

    Most news is a commodity. Most news happens publically, and more than one publication writes up news. Of course, if ANYONE gives an account of a news event away free, it lowers the "value" of everyone's dispatches.

    Thus, newspapers will have to become relevant (I suspect they will not). In order to charge money for something I can get free elsewhere, you have to make it:

    * convenient to me in a way that is compelling
    * better than the free version
    * give it some cache (e.g. Starbucks)

    If I were a local newspaper, I'd make most of my content free for one day, but put my ARCHIVES behind the gate. Most newspapers' real asset (from a news angle) is the ability to search their archives.

    And reqiring anything more than a zip code and age is probably counterproductive as this is pretty much all the advertiser cares about.

    (Oh, and if you think newspaper publishers are above lying about their readership in order to goose advertising rates, well ... you are misinformed.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Chomper, 14 Mar 2005 @ 7:50am

      Re: Gating content

      I was going to say, hello?!? Newsday ring a bell?!?

      As for charging for news, I think Salon.com is a good example of irrelevant. Although they have stayed afloat this far, I don't know many who read the site, I used to read it before they started charging, now I don't bother.

      Same with NYTimes or whatever else, I only read it cos' it's online, not because they have anything really new to say.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Phibian, 15 Mar 2005 @ 1:05pm

        Re: Gating content

        I only read a very small percentage of Salon because much of what they write isn't on topics I want to spend time on. This is true of my local paper too.

        However, while Salon lets me read whatever I want at no charge (get a day pass, Chomper!), my local paper lets me read the first two sentences of the article, with the odd article containing the full text. I still read Salon as much as I ever did - but I mainly get local news from Google.

        The day pass is a form of "admission" I guess - but but their ads tend towards being more entertaining and/or informative than most and they are also usually very short, so I do often watch them at least the first time. Of course, nothing says you have to watch the ad (you can simply open it in a new tab and go back to the site).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Greg Andrew, 15 Mar 2005 @ 9:14am

    No Subject Given

    All your points are relevant and accurate, but you don't present any solutions for newspapers which are simply going to cease to exist if all their print subscribers switch to reading them for free online. If not for the money the print edition earns, the online Times would be losing millions of dollars a year because of the cost it takes to produce its content. Stockholders would strongly prefer irrelevance to bankruptcy.

    And 75% of the Times is not re-written wire copy. That's true of many smaller papers in the US, but it's not true of papers like the Times, WaPost, LA Times, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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