The New York Times says it will begin charging for Internet access to its content, beginning sometime in early 2011. Lots of details still have to be worked out.
The Times confirmed recent paywall rumors in an article posted on its website on Wednesday. It was dated January 21, so it appears subscribers to the print version will see it on Thursday.
Which puts a focus on the whole issue: How do daily newspapers rework their business model in an era where news is instantaneous and yesterday is ancient history? Few publications have succeeded in charging for Internet access to their content, but hard-hit newspapers have been desperately searching for a way to compensate for lost advertising revenues.
“This is a bet, to a certain degree, on where we think the Web is going. This is not going to be something that is going to change the financial dynamics overnight,” New York Times Company Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was quoted as saying in the newspaper’s story.
The Times cited two major publications as being successful in charging for online content. The Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corporation, charges a flat fee for access, but also has some of its content available to all comers. We would note that the amount of free content has been increasing, even as News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has been telling everyone who will listen that newspapers have to go to a pay model. The other example is the Financial Times, which allows non-subscribers to access up to 10 articles per month. Both, however, are much more specialized in their news coverage than the New York Times.
The Times says details of its paywall will be worked out over the coming months, but will resemble what the Financial Times is doing. There was no word on what price might be charged for online subscriptions.
The New York Times tried – and failed – once before to charge for Internet content. The TimesSelect service that operated 2005-2007 charged $49.95 per month for Web access to editorials and columns, but not general news. The newspaper said it had about 210,000 subscribers when it was shut down.
RBR-TVBR observation: Wave bye-bye as the New York Times fades into oblivion.
This will certainly attract a few subscribers, as evidenced by TimesSelect, but probably not enough to impact the bottom line. Meanwhile, the bottom line will be impacted by the lost eyeballs to the Times website and the online ad dollars that will be placed elsewhere.
The people who run the New York Times think their general news coverage is so insightful and unique that readers will not be satisfied with the replacements that exist elsewhere on the Internet. Dream on.