New York Times Ready to Charge Online Readers — Daily Intel

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Echoing the agony of the industry, the New York Times is still struggling with the question of whether and how to charge for its online content, and will soon announce some kind of pay model.

As a news publisher at the opposite end of the size spectrum, I feel their pain and confusion.

The whole industry had been embroiled in this debate for years, made more urgent by the collapse of national advertising, the main cash cow, during the recession. Some argue the practice of subsidizing news with advertising is ending. Others (and some of the same observers) insist that charging online readers will only drive them away and thus kill what ad revenue exists, inadequate thought it is.

In reality, the answer will be different for each publication. Some, like NYT with a huge worldwide readership, might benefit from The Long Tail, able to reap great benefits from small charges. Others (perhaps The Seattle Times) might have to remain completely free online or risk sending all readers to some as-yet-unseen competitor lurking and ready to start up for little or no money. Still others can charge for unique content unavailable anywhere else (The Wall Street Journal).

Those who suggest that adding services and vertical integration to the free model usually overlook the fact that those services, too, have to make money for someone and they cost more than you might think. Adding an entirely new business to help sustain your existing main business is always fraught with complications and unseen risks. Anyone who tells you differently has never had to meet a payroll.

If NYT, which some new media advocates deride as clueless and systemically insulated about the new realities in the connected world, can’t make it with the free model, then perhaps no publication tied to the print legacy can.

Their second attempt at a pay model will be interesting to watch.

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About Scott Hunter

Editor of The Star newspaper in Grand Coulee, observer of life, history, patterns in things that matter.
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