How Will We Pay for The New York Times?

Last month the media topic du jour was ‘Will the New York Times survive?’ In the last week or so the conversation appears to have shifted to ‘How will the Times survive?’ CEO Janet Robinson says “As other newspapers cut back on international and national coverage, or cease operations, we believe there will be opportunities for The Times to fill that void.” But how? It seems likely that paid content of some sort is on the way, but what it might look like is very much up for discussion.

Over at Slate Gabe Sherman is arguing that the i-Tunes micropayment formula, most recently suggested by Time‘s Walter Isaacson, won’t work.

Put simply, journalism is not music. Yes, Jobs convinced consumers to pay for music in digital form. But unlike an individual newspaper link, an iTunes purchase becomes digital property a music lover can enjoy for life…Compare that to a dispatch from Baghdad or an analysis of the stimulus bailout. No matter how illuminating and engaging, journalism is fleeting by comparison.

Meanwhile Steve Brill says the Times is wasting its time sticking to a free model.

“There is simply no example, not one — in print, on line, in television — of quality content offered for free ever resulting in a viable business,” says Brill. Brill has devised his own payment plan for the Times the basics of which go something like this: Customers can either pay 10 cents/article, or a flat fee of $7.50/mth, or $55/year. Aggregator sites like HuffPo would receive five percent of the profits from an article should a customer click through from their site. Print subscribers would get one year free to help them adjust.

And, over at Fimoculous Rex Sorgatz has some very smart ideas (we aren’t even going to attempt to explain — you should go look for yourself) about what a feasible micropayment system might look like should that be the route newspapers end up taking.

Conclusion? Same as it has been for a while. Mainly that the free content ship has sailed and in the end you will get what you pay for.