The Value Of The Link vs. The Value Of The Content

from the which-is-more-important dept

At this point, we've probably discussed the newly planned NY Times paywall enough, but a blog post by Reuters' Felix Salmon made such a good point that it's worth highlighting. In talking about the paywall, he notes, as I did originally, that people have a lot less incentive to link to the NY Times as they know it will be harder for others to make use of that link. That I understood, but Salmon made a key point that I hadn't really thought about:
I suspect that what's going to happen now is that as the moment of truth approaches, bloggers will increasingly search around for the NYT's replacement as online paper of record: the way that blogs work is that they're backed up by links to reliable sources, and a link is worthless if the person clicking on it risks running straight into a paywall, unable to read the information in question. The NYT's journalism might well continue to be reliable, but its website won't be, any more.
That point highlights the difference between valuing the content vs. valuing the conversation (or even valuing enabling the conversation). The top folks at the NY Times (and many other publications) seem to over-value the content and undervalue the conversation. Thus, they think that the content needs to be paid for, but don't realize that they devalue their role in the conversation.

If you want to make the bet that the internet is more about content delivery than conversation and communication, then perhaps this makes sense. But, almost all signs point to the fact that it's the conversation that's the really important thing online, and devaluing that is almost certainly a mistake.

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  • identicon
    mknowles, 21 Jan 2010 @ 1:06pm unreliable source

    I don't trust the New York Times because of Judith Miller and the Iraq war. Hard for me to justify paying for information that might not be reliable. The Iraq war has cost us so much, we can't have health care or affordable college for our kids...

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

  • icon
    Danny (profile), 21 Jan 2010 @ 1:27pm

    It's isn't cognitive dissonance; I am quite sure it must be something else

    Mike, I can buy the point you are making here. But, as you might suspect, the newspaper/magazine industry will not get it. They won't get it even five years down the road when it should become obvious to them (they will find some other excuse why their business model didn't work.)

    I am doing some consulting right now for a major museum. Their marketing VP wants help ramping up a project that is essentially a web magazine in their domain of expertise. Her focus is on all the great content they can deliver.

    My question five minutes into our first meeting was: how do you plan to monetize this? (In fact, most of this blogs readership would have known to ask that question.)

    Her answer was essentially, "I don't know yet." This was a fair answer as she is bringing me in very early to the project. But as we explored her options for monetizing, it became clear that paying for content was very high on her list. I told her it wouldn't work and explained why (the basic stuff Mike talks about). She insisted that lots of newspapers are going to start charging for content soon. And she is confident that because her material is high quality, it will have value.


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    • icon
      Daniel Bailin (profile), 21 Jan 2010 @ 4:43pm

      Re: It's isn't cognitive dissonance; I am quite sure it must be something else

      Danny, in this case I wonder if she might not have some limited success. After all, as a museum they are probably used to working with small audiences, and there might not be as many other sources of this info vs. general news. Plus, I'm guessing that they aren't going to lose some other source of revenue in the process (such as advertising losses at NYTimes when it goes behind a paywall).

      Like I said, I agree with Mike and you in principle, but wonder if a museum might be a special and somewhat different case.

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

  • icon
    Designerfx (profile), 21 Jan 2010 @ 1:39pm

    had this exact convo on twitter

    I had a similar convo the other day about this. I said that good journalists or good reporters don't really make up for the decisions of the NYT or otherwise. How do people not get that? The journalists can be awesome but behind a paywall nobody will know that or care.

    Simplified: you may be the best at what you do for (company), but it doesn't save you from the ire of people for what (company) does.

    replace company with all the things that drive people nuts: law enforcement, NYT, best buy, walmart, it's all the same. What you associate with, defines your business.

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

  • icon
    Andrew (profile), 21 Jan 2010 @ 1:39pm

    Counting the links

    I was wondering about this too after Xeni @ BB commented on it yesterday.

    One possibly similar case is the BBC iPlayer. It has great content, but most of it is only available for a week before it disappears.

    Using Yahoo's Site Explorer, we can see how many links from other sites there are to iPlayer overall (85,967), the permanent radio pages (7258) and the transient programmes (11). Ouch.

    (I know the comparison isn't perfect as the NYT content will only be inaccessible to frequent visitors rather than everyone after a week.)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2010 @ 1:53pm

    content vs. conversation

    I agree with Mike on this one. I seldom read his articles...but I love reading the comments.

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

  • identicon
    eshan, 21 Jan 2010 @ 2:01pm

    Depends on the pricing

    If readers got 1 free article per month, a blogger would be wary of linking. If readers got 50 articles per month, and the overage charge was extremely reasonable, bloggers could reasonably assume that most people will be able to access the content. Most people would be under the limit, some diehard fans would be paying, and a small portion would reach the limit but refuse to pay. 100% availability is not required.

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  • icon
    PassinThru (profile), 21 Jan 2010 @ 2:03pm

    Apparently not a paywall at all

    An update to Felix's article from a NYT spokesman says that links you follow to articles on the site from outside the site won't count toward your total. Let's see then - I could set up a site called FreeNYTimes that contains nothing but links to their articles. You could follow as many of them as you like, and never hit the paywall.

    While that does handle the "cut off from the web" problem, it's hard to see them making any money this way. Still, I could be wrong - maybe some folks just like to go their site and read, and are willing to pay for it. But enough?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2010 @ 5:49pm

      Re: Apparently not a paywall at all

      According to the NYT website,you can access any articles through google or other links for free, but once on the site, any further access counts toward your monthly total.

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

  • identicon
    nyt - no thanks, 21 Jan 2010 @ 6:06pm

    "people have a lot less incentive to link to the NY Times as they know it will be harder for others to make use of that link"

    This is already happening. I see many cases where commenters complain about a nyt link because of the free reg

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 21 Jan 2010 @ 7:49pm


      This brings up a good point -- I already avoid the NYT myself because of that stupid registration requirement. It doesn't matter to me that it's "free" -- as soon as I hit that login screen, I've moved on.

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  • icon (profile), 22 Jan 2010 @ 4:11am

    Googlebot Useragent?

    From what I've read the german paper "Hamburger Abendblatt" set up their paywall in such a clever way that all you have to do is switch your browsers useragent to "Googlebot" to read all the stuff behind their paywall for free.

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

  • icon
    Rosedale (profile), 22 Jan 2010 @ 8:53am

    Years ago

    Years ago I encountered this same problem. People would send me a NYT link and sometimes I could read it and often I would hit a paywall. Especially troubling was when I would close down FF and restart the tabs only to find the paywall...this happened a lot. The problem was so acute that I just gave up altogether. If someone sent me a link or I saw a link to NYT I'd just ignore it. For years that was true long after they removed the paywall. It wasn't until I got my iPhone and realized all the content was free that I started to use NYT. I now use it all the time and link to it liberally. It opens some great conversations on FB and Twitter.

    If they do go through with the paywall I am afraid that I'll have to leave NYT for good. I might occasionally look at it or link to it if I absolutely need to, but in general I won't trust it because of the frustration it causes.

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

  • identicon
    dh, 22 Jan 2010 @ 12:47pm

    Dear New York Times...

    It's not you. Really, it's not. It's me.

    We had some great years together. I'll always care for you, but we've just grown apart. I thought I'd found my soulmate when you put your entire archive online, one of the most amazing things an institution like you could ever do. And remember the whole Jayson Blair thing? What a hoot!

    It's clear we're drifting in different directions. You're still smart and reliable and well-traveled, but lately it seems like you're only interested in me for my money.

    It must be frustrating to have people constantly talking about you, linking to you, quoting you, lusting after your puzzle. It's understandable if you need some time alone, behind closed doors.

    You see, Times, times have changed. The world is different now. I long for the old days too -- the days when ignorant puppies didn't bark nonsense all day on cable, the days when we weren't infatuated with celebrity gossip and "reality" melodramas, the days before corporate press releases were news stories, the days when our neighbors weren't such asshole princesses.

    Sadly, those days are gone. It's not your fault, our whole nation got greedy. But now I need someone who looks forward, someone who I can grow with, someone who's strong enough to take a stand yet creative enough to make a leap.

    I'm so sorry, NYT. Goodbye.

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

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