Journalistic "New Coke"


That's Kevin Drum's characterization of the New York Times' decision to put its op-ed columnists behind a subscription firewall come September. William Strunk once said that to air one's views gratuitiously is to suggest that the demand for them is brisk. Well, in our age of blog, there's a lot of gratuitous airing, and one can't help but suspect that—if the laws of supply and demand hold—that makes it a less-than-propitious time to start trying to charge for 800-word opinion squibs. That's especially the case because there are network effects involved in writing of that sort: Part of the value of reading, say, Paul Krugman or Tom Friedman is that you expect other people to be reading them, and you want to be prepared for what folks are going to be chattering about over drinks after work (well, in D.C. anyway) or around the blogs. Attenuating that discussion by raising barriers to open linking could create a kind of negative feedback loop—and maybe grant Maureen Dowd the irrelevance she so richly deserves.