A couple months ago, I chatted with someone who said the New York Times was considering going to a subscription model for nytimes.com, similar to the Wall Street Journal. I said that would be a foolish and short-sighted decision on the Times' part; to place their content behind a subscription wall would be to remove themselves from online conversations now and in the future.
Adam L. Penenberg, in an article for wired.com on February 24, 2005 about the Wall Street Journal's for-pay approach, Whither The Wall Street Journal? expressed a similar point of view:
Since most people refuse to pay for WSJ stories, most bloggers are reluctant to link to them. It also has an impact on anyone who uses the web for research — and there are a lot of us. As importantly, the next generation of readers is growing up by accessing news over the internet, and one place they are not surfing to is WSJ.com. With their habits being formed now, there is little chance the Journal will become part of their lives, either now or in the future. (emphasis mine)
The Times should remove all barriers to content, from their registration requirement to their for-pay archive access
And yet, yesterday the Times issued a press release, The New York Times Announces TimesSelect – New Online Offering to Launch in September announcing their decision to move more content to an expensive for-pay only section of their site. This is a move in the wrong direction: The Times should remove all barriers to content, from their registration requirement to their for-pay archive access. Such action would enable and increase linking to their broad range of content.
As Jill Walker writes in her paper, Links and Power: The Political Economy of Linking on the Web, "Links have become the currency of the Web. With this economic value they also have power, affecting accessibility and knowledge on the Web."
Enabling more links to the New York Times would:
- increase the visibility of the Times brand
- help content reach a larger segment of readers
- increase traffic to the site
Clearly, increased traffic would drive increased revenue in the form of online advertising. And in the long term, I believe it would generate more income than charging US$49.95 for an annual subscription. Perhaps US$49.95 is, as Martin Nisenholtz (senior vice president of digital operations for the Times) says, a "terrific price point" for what they're offering — if you happen to live in the US or western Europe. But it truly is a world wide web, with English as its de facto language.
As media brands increasingly become more global, it's hard to fathom why the Times wouldn't do everything in its power to ensure it's the world wide web's news leader. By charging for its online content, the Times reduces its number of linkable sources, and thus its reach in the online world. It's their first step towards ensuring they will play a smaller role in it going forward.