New York Times takes giant step in industry standard
The New York Times isn’t the first major newspaper to charge for its online edition. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have pay schemes in place. But as a standard bearer for the general global news media — rather than niche financial content — its plans to put a value on its digital content bring a certain, and welcome, gravitas.
The approach is a better alternative to its aborted attempt five years ago to generate online subscription revenue by charging for access to its most popular columnists. As with FT.com, casual readers will continue to have access to an as yet to be determined number of big stories, generating the kind of traffic and search engine optimization that advertisers desire. Habitual readers, who value the Times as their go-to news source, will no longer eat as much as they like for free.
The Times is under no illusion that such a pay model will resolve the financial upheaval wrought by the Internet on the newspaper publisher’s finances. But anything that closes once and for all the notion that online news content should, and always will be, free is a step forward for the industry.
Putting a price on its product will also help the Times as new gadgets, like Apple’s tablet, catch on and offer new ways to access the Times.
Of course, the key for the company’s shareholders will be in its implementation. The Times promises readers a “frictionless experience” under the new pay model, which is essential if it is to avoid alienating its readership. And it needs to price the service at a point that doesn’t excessively cannibalize its print business while still attracting sufficient digital subscription volume.
Luckily for the Times, and in no small part thanks to telegraphing its own intentions, the paper will be in good company a year from now when it finally puts up the pay walls.