Monday, January 10, 2005

What's New: NY Times Mulling Fees for Online Readers

It must be news, Reuters ran a story about a Business Week cover story about the New York Times, titled The Future of the New York Times. The Reuters article focuses on the theme of free versus fee for online newspapers, even though the Business Week article covers much more territory. Reuters quotes a newspaper industry consultant, John Morton, as saying that free editions of newspapers on the Web are "quickly falling out of favor" and goes further to say that the Wall St. Journal's model of selling paid subscriptions to both print and online editions have "been very successful".

My goodness, I thought we had got beyond pointing to the Wall St. Journal as the paid subscription success story for other newspapers to follow. With flat subscription levels, the Wall St. Journal is busy creating new revenue streams from vertical editions and other advertising and subscription vehicles. The New York Times, with a broader base of online readers (18.5 million unique monthly visitors vs. 701,000 paid subscribers to the WSJ Online)has abundant opportunities to create advertising vehicles that are targeted to segments of its readers. Part of the problem for the New York Times is their dual role as a regional as well as a national newspapers. But, the answer is not to wall off the content and make it available on a subsription-only basis. They'll turn away too much advertising revenue and lose too many occasional or cost-conscious readers. Rather, the folks at the New York Times have to start thinking about how to create new supplemental online editions, ebooks, traditional books, and other content collections that build on their reputation for quality journalism and can be positioned for distinct audiences. The choice to charge a subscription fee, onetime charge, or have complete ad-supported content should depend on the nature of the content and whether its appeal is broad or exclusive. If the content appeals to a broad audience and sufficient advertising support can be found, then it makes sense to use an open access model. If the content is specialized and appeals to a limited market, then a subscription model or mixed subscription/advertising model makes sense. The bottom line is that a publishing organization that has the journalistic resources and content repository depth of the New York Times should be able to publish a host of products that appeal to a variety of target audiences on any technical platform appropriate for that audience.
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