May 17, 2005

NYT Going Backwards

While the rest of the world online is trying to entice readers to hear their opinions by having games, gimmicks and graphics, the New York Times is planning to start charging subscriptions to read their articles and op-eds. As noted at QandO, the Wall Street Journal charges for access but they have a specialized subject, a strong reputation, and a small devoted market that can easily afford premium web services. And they still likely feel a loss in influence due to their exclusivity and insularity.

The reason the New York Times is criticized so heavily is not that New York is important and therefore New York's premier paper should be a target. It's that, moreso than any other US paper, NYT articles are re-printed in other papers. So the Kansas City Star and the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle you read might actually contain New York Times articles. That's a good reason to give them scrutiny on fairness of coverage.

But if the New York Times starts receding from its net presence, which up 'til now has been impressive if not dominant, it will see a loss of influence in the blogosphere. Even when it's being criticized it still gets to help set the terms of debate.

Now, personally, I never registered a free account so the only NYT stuff I read is the occasional reproduced quote and every so often when I try to click on a link and see if some or all of it is open. So even forcing a free registration on me was too much (I've registered too many things online to have any interest in doing it for the NYT). But imagine how many bloggers, who work on a hobby/recreational basis, who aren't going to sink $50 down the hole to hear stupid opinions and poorly-research editorials masking as articles.

It's too easy as it is to read the WaPo or LAT, or even Townhall (which is subscription-free) or just follow the great collection of links regularly found in the Club For Growth blog entries. Their fame and name have helped keep the NYT at the top of the dogpile online, but it wouldn't take much for WaPo or the LAT to pass them up - especially with guys like Patterico already holding a vast amount of dirt on the LAT.

It is interesting, again, that the NYT is essentially running against the grain. Assuming that their op-eds are so valuable as to pull a vast chunk of the registered readers into subscription readers sounds like an accounting-influenced decision. Somebody probably noticed that they had a huge bandwidth bill and that sponsors weren't covering the gap.

It's also possible that they're trying to help save the print subscriptions, which now come with free TimesSelect membership online. Maybe they're trying to discourage those who circumvent the news-stand/print-subscription route by going online.

I don't see it working in their favor. While they could become profitable as a result - with a severe drop in hits and subscriptions to help cover costs and hopefully offset the loss of ad revenue - they're going to see an overall loss of prestige and influence. The Paper of Record would lose that status online to a more web-friendly venture. The Washington Post has been online for a while and it wouldn't be at all surprising if they stepped into the vacuum and became The Internet's Paper of Record.


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