How long have we been living under the looming shadow that is the threat of a New York Times‘ pay wall? The answer most likely is since TimesSelect’s fall in 2007, after the paper’s first attempt at getting online readers to pay for content.
Since then, publisher Arthur Sulzberger has made vague promises, culminating in today’s announcement of a plan to launch a metered pay model on NYTimes.com next year. It makes sense: last year saw the Times‘ hemorrhaging money (losing $35 million in the third quarter alone), and speculation that the paper wouldn’t make it to 2010.
Thankfully, Carlos Slim stepped in last year, but it still remains to be seen how the Grey Lady will make it back into the black. While alienating some readers, the metered system of content-charging that Sulzberger is planning may actually be the best compromise between giving away your product for free and going on almost total lock-down mode like the The Wall Street Journal. Under this plan, The New York Times will eventually allow you to read only a certain number of articles per month before asking you to subscribe, much like Variety or The Financial Times (although some have pointed out that the FT‘s model is looking more and more like the Journal‘s).
But even before today’s not completely unexpected announcement, media critics were chomping at the bit to react to the Times‘ possible pay plans. After the jump, a look at what some of them are saying.
A vocal “nay” comes from Michael Wolff, whose recent tiff with the Times over their Roger Ailes profile lead him to declare that instead of charging for content the paper should fire its publisher since, “there is not any greater reason to believe that Times readers are more willing or in a better position to pay. So, really only the levels of desperation have changed.”
PaidContent.org is similarly pessimistic about the metered strategy, but offers some friendly tips for the Times.
Meanwhile, Nat Ives over at Advertising Age believes that a metered system might be problematic since essentially it only asks the paper’s biggest users — and thus its most valuable data set — to pay for the service. Charge that group, and run the risk of not only alienating your most loyal readers, but your advertisers as well.
Reuters‘ Felix Salmon agrees, pointing out that “itâ€™s almost impossible to build ‘active communities’ behind a paywall”, and noting that bloggers will now spend the next few months finding reliable sources to link to in lieu of the Times, in preparation for when the wall goes up. Who wants to link to a story that only some of your readers can access?
But some, including Times-ers themselves, seem gung-ho for a New York Times pay wall. It’s easier to criticize than it is to praise, but there is a nugget of optimism in Derek Thompson’s piece for The Atlantic, which calls the move to charge “the right choice…the only choice.” Thompson points out that the publication’s content revenue will beat its own advertising revenue sometime next year. This would be the positive side of the coin we’re currently calling “The Death of the Print Business Model.”
The only question left is will the money from a pay wall be enough to fill the gap left by distrustful advertisers and that majority of readers still refusing to pay for online content?
For more thoughts, check out this compilation of Twitter responses from earlier today, right as news of the Times‘ announcement broke.
–Additional reporting by Amanda Ernst
How The New York Times Should Charge For Content –PaidContent
New York Times to Charge for Online Content – Finally –The Atlantic
The NYT’s paywall –Reuters
Previously: More On Times Online Pay Model: The Memo