Culture

The Day the Times' Pay Wall Fell

|

It was never quite the Berlin Wall of American journalism, but The New York Times' pay wall for full content has officially been reduced to rubble (or, more precisely, will be as of Wednesday). Let us pause for a moment and consider the good the subscriber wall accomplished: By making it just a teeny more difficult to access content by opinion columnists Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich, it freed most of us from having to pay attention to such generally braying jackasses.

Which isn't to say the attempt by the Times to charge for content wasn't an interesting experiment from a business perspective. Over at TechBlorge, David Cassel crunches the numbers for those of us not so good in math:

The Times is strongly repudiating the idea that newspapers can earn big profits by hiding their online content behind a "pay wall" which can only be accessed by web surfers who pay a subscription fee. Crunching the Times' own statistics shows the two-year experiment was earning the Times about $833,000 each month - or $10 million a year - but that's about a third of the $80.9 million earned by all digital businesses at the Times. And even then, almost 90% of the company's money was coming from its non-digital offerings.

The Times' revenue from subscribers broke down to about $27,400 a day -
but given that the newsstand editions cost $1 apiece, that additional money was the equivalent of just a 2.4% rise in their daily circulation of 1,120,420. Yet according to the newspaper, out of the 787,000 subscribers to Times' web site, about 29% were already paying for complete access to the site. "[O]ur projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low," according to the general manager of NYTimes.com - at least compared to the potential profits from making the content free, and then earning revenue through advertising. In an article which appeared in the New York Times, a media analyst notes that the the ads on the Times' site have been carefully targetted to its readers - which makes their ads even more lucrative….

The Times' move represents a milestone for the internet. According to their own article, the only other major newspaper still charging for online access is the Wall Street Journal. After over ten years, "The Journal has nearly one million paying online readers, generating about $65 million in revenue." And despite that, the Times reports an interesting rumor. The Journal's new owners have been discussing the possibility of discontinuing their paid access as well.

It's not that information wants to be free, but readers sure want it to be.

More here.

NEXT: Creative Destruction vs. the New Industrial State

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. "Let us pause for a moment and consider the good the subscriber wall accomplished: By making it just a teeny more difficult to access content by opinion columnists Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich, it freed most of us from having to pay attention to such generally braying jackasses."

    Wow, that's the best thing Gillespie ever wrote.

  2. Maybe if the Times weren't so openly partisan and Liberal, they would do better.

    Incidentally, you drugged up, hippies of the right accused me of having a holocaust denial site when it was in actuality a holocuast denial parody site (the Irish Potato famine never happened; etc.). As you chaps are too doped up to understand a parody site, I offer something different so there can be no confusion with you confused, Libertairan doper types.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here!"

  3. $10 million a year - but that's about a third of the $80.9 million earned by all digital businesses at the Times.

    Huh? How can you make 10 a third of 80? That must be "$30.9 million earned by all digital businesses at the Times."

  4. Cool! So now I can get fabricated news stories for free?

  5. Anyone read the David Brooks editorial this morning? He was creaming his jeans over Hillary Clinton's wonderful health care plan. Talk about court intellectuals!

  6. I need Mo MoDo.

    The TimesSelect experiment answered the question: If a columnists pontificates in the woods, does it still smell as bad?

  7. Frank Rich isn't all bad.

    Even Krugman isn't all bad. Maybe 70% of his columns are written using fair, good-faith arguments - even though I usually don't agree with them. He's got a few hobbyhorses where he is wilfully disingenuous, but doesn't everyone?

    MoDo is the absolute worst columnist working in the English speaking world today, though. Why oh why does every public issue have to be filtered through her "I'm bitter 'cause movie stars want to date hotter women than me," lens?

  8. MoDo is the absolute worst columnist working in the English speaking world today, though. Why oh why does every public issue have to be filtered through her "I'm bitter 'cause movie stars want to date hotter women than me," lens?

    I concur. Maureen Dowd is simply Jean Teasdale with a college degree.

  9. MoDo is the absolute worst columnist working in the English speaking world today, though.

    I challenge you to visit Townhall.com's columnist page and pick any five at random. Then come back and tell us if you still think Dowd is that bad.

  10. it freed most of us from having to pay attention to such generally braying jackasses

    Wow. A bitter snark worthy of... Mo herself.

  11. I challenge you to visit Townhall.com's columnist page and pick any five at random. Then come back and tell us if you still think Dowd is that bad.

    Townhall does indeed suck, but at least their columnists try to say something relevant to others. Their view of, for example, the Iraq War might be entirely hallucinatory, but at least they're hallucinating about something that will have an actual impact on the lives of someone other than the columnist. That's quite different from "Aaaaugh! Now that I've turned fifty I'm invited on less dates than when I was twenty! It's a male plot! Damn the patriarchy! My RIGHT to be lusted after is being denied to me! We need a government commission to look into this."

  12. kyle,

    I think we get the point, yet still don't care. Plz fuck off now thx bye.

  13. I agree with Dan T. Townhall is only worth going to on Wednesdays. That's when you read Walt Williams and Stossel.

  14. I'd love to see Reason try to charge for this shit.

  15. I've never understood why micropayments for things like online articles haven't caught on. I think it would be great.

  16. I'd love to see Reason try to charge for this shit.

    They do. It's this thing made of paper that comes approximately once a month (damn you reason and your 11 issues). There are many people who pay for "this shit".

    Now, getting people to pay for you, Edward, would be impressive. Maybe someone will pay you to go away, because you obviously don't mean it when you say it.

  17. "Aaaaugh! Now that I've turned fifty I'm invited on less dates than when I was twenty! It's a male plot! Damn the patriarchy! My RIGHT to be lusted after is being denied to me! We need a government commission to look into this."

    So basically, she's Cathy for women who don't want to be seen reading the comics?

  18. So basically, she's Cathy for women who don't want to be seen reading the comics?

    Don't ask me. I have yet to understand Cathy's presumed appeal. I suspect Cathy Guisewite is actually a hardcore misogynist in drag. "I shall portray all women as bimbos who will be poor even if they make good money because they blow it all on overpriced shoes, and obsess over their weight and say 'Ack' a lot."

  19. Does stupidity matter?

    I'm not saying that Kyle is a lame-assed idiot, but history DOES prove that people who spend much of their free time posting links to You-Tube videos that no one really cares about tend to not get laid.

  20. and say 'Ack' a lot."

    That's it! Guisewite is merely a nom de plume for Bill the Cat.

  21. I've never understood why micropayments for things like online articles haven't caught on.

    Because the state of the art of online shopping sucks. I reckon about 50% of the public is completely incapable of ordering something online, and another 20-25% refuse to do so for security reasons. It's not going to make money until we have implanted credit chips or something.

  22. TimesSelect content has always been available for free at several (liberal) pirate sites. NYT legal and editorial were quite aware of these sites, and chose to do nothing to stop them, which made huge suckers out of the paying TimesSelect subscribers.

  23. Because the state of the art of online shopping sucks.

    So true. We just spent over a year remodeling our house, researching and ordering many of the countless items we needed on the Internet. It required browsing through tons of weakly organized product lists. I was used to ordering things like books, but there ain't no Dewey Decimal system for, say, plumbing fixtures.

    Speculating on the question I asked, though, perhaps micropayments haven't caught on for online articles because advertising-based revenue models have worked out better.

  24. I've always found it amusing how the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal took opposite approaches.

    The Journal gave away its opinions and charged for its reporting, and has been very successful. For some reason the Times thought people would pay for their opinions.

    The idea that opinion is more valuable than reporting and fact really gets to the root of what is wrong with journalism.

  25. Speculating on the question I asked, though, perhaps micropayments haven't caught on for online articles because advertising-based revenue models have worked out better.

    Undoubtedly true. And since advertising revenue is predicated on attracting the most "eyeballs" possible, why would you do anything to limit access?

    The funny thing about this is that newspapers have been based on this same model for decades--advertising has long provided the bulk of revenues. That's why news organizations have kept the subscription and cover prices so low, and even continued delivery in some cases when subscriptions lapsed.

    In the end, though, I will continue my policy of not reading Dowd, Rich or Krugman.

  26. I have noticed that the online sites of primarily print newspapers are more likely to be infested with annoying and intrusive pop-up ads than anything else on the Internet, with the possible exception of ultra-sleazy porn sites. Maybe.

    Just an observation.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.