I read this story today, and immediately, I had two different reactions: “Yay!” and “Well, I guess I won’t be visiting NYTimes.com much anymore.”
First reaction: I think it’s great the NY Times is thinking of ways it can make money on the Web. I always feel optimistic when somebody in this not-dying-but-totally-changing business is thinking of trying something a little bit different. If the NY Times wants to charge a bit so you can read the best newspaper in the world, I say “god bless.” If ESPN.com wants to employ a blogger for each NFL division and each BCS conference to get fans a micro-view of the news, I say “that’s awesome.” If CBSSports.com wants to pay me for … well, I’ll get into that part later. It’s all about adapting and finding a formula that works. The NY Times (and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as well, in a similar capacity) tried something a few years back called TimesSelect where, basically, you had to subscribe to read certain columnists. It eventually went away (the linked article explains why). Now, the NY Times is going to try something different. I think it can work. If people perceive the content as being too good or too important to pass up, they’ll pay for it. Ask the Financial Times’ web site about that. The NY Times can accomplish the same as well,* because, in reality, you could spend all day on the site reading fascinating and well-written stories.
*Whether a paper like the Cincinnati Enquirer or AJC could make that formula work, I don’t know. But I kind of have my doubts.
Second reaction: If I, a journalist and a student of this business, question whether it’s worth it to shell out, say, $60 a year to read the Times online, you wonder how well this idea will really work. I love the Times (I love reading the newspaper, anyway. I don’t read the web site nearly as much I should), but I don’t know if I want to pay to read it on my computer. I’d almost rather spend the $200 (or whatever it is) to subscribe and get the paper thrown at my front door every day than to have to read it online (maybe, that’s what the Times would want anyway). I just don’t know if I want to spend my money on that.
On one hand, I’m optimistic. On the other, I’m a little bit sad.
You might be interested in an argument going back and forth between Chris Anderson from Wired and Malcolm Gladwell from The New Yorker. Chris Anderson has a new book out about how information “wants to be free”. The folks at The New York times apparently agree with Gladwell.