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New York Times Free At Last September 18, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Advertising, Essays, Journalism, News, Trends.
Tags: , , , , ,

So it’s no sale with paid content. The New York Times is joining the crescendo of falling walls at news sites including The Economist and CNN by ending its experiment with charging for select online content. The Times today restored free access to most of its columnists along with many articles, blogs, video, podcasts and archives.

It sure is good Maureen Dowd and the cast of Times columnists are firmly back into the public conversation. Columnists like her must be clicking their champagne glasses now their verbiage is accessible to a larger audience. But I’m raising my glass to a move that opens access to journalism’s most definitive moments on the Web.

The more important meaning for journalism here I say, is opening up the Times archives. With a perma-link on each article, Times’ stories will become the de facto primary sources for people around the Web, and around the world. So on topic after topic, the Times stories will move near or to the top of the search engine rankings. They will become more valuable for keyword and advertising once people click through to the actual stories.

Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.

New YorK Times

This was a money decision to be sure, and it could well be the start of the end for paid news on the Web. It is not so much that ads on the columnist pages will bring in that much new revenue but rather people looking at those pages will then go elsewhere on the site and the more eyeballs looking at more advertising, the better.

By lifting the gates on Times Select and returning its website to a completely ad-supported model, the larger significance is a resounding victory for the idea that information wants to be free. The Times site, nytimes.com, is the most popular newspaper site on the Web, with 13.1 million unique visitors. But its middling results with paid content, neither validation nor failure, strongly suggest that very few content publishers should even consider playing in the pay arena.


Lifting the ramparts on paid content shows the Times is taking seriously the prospect that Rupert Murdoch will drop access charges for most or all of The Wall Street Journal Online. The Journal is now the only major newspaper charging subscriptions for most of its online content.

Incidentally, Murdoch gave his strongest statements to date the WSJ.com will go free. He says the company doesn’t feel it would hurt subscriptions and any lost revenue would be more than made up from increased readership and search engine traffic.

There’s talk the UK’s Financial Times web site with around 100,000 subscribers will also open up. Which begs that question – if we can read newspapers for free on the Web, why should we pay to read it in print? How come one model works for the Web and another model is used for print. The print model needs revisiting.

The once hot online-newspaper ad revenue is slowing as a result of competition from Web portals and TV networks. Nielsen/NetRatings show Yahoo News and Time Warner CNN Web sites posting strong growth over newspaper sites. Although online ads still make up a small portion of total newspaper revenues, the downward spiral of print revenues, has pushed print media to grab as big a slice of the online-ad pie as they can.


The Times introduced Times Select in September 2005 to wring subscription revenue from its website and shore up sales in print, where ad rates remain much higher than they are online. It admitted that the power of search engines, which often drive traffic to the Times Online even when people looking for information don’t necessarily set out to find it, meant there was too much potential to pass up in free access underwritten by marketers.

2007 is emerging as a watershed for advertising, once seen as only part of a broader revenue play. Media owners are recognizing there is more money to be made reducing barriers to usage and selling advertising against that increased usage. So far in 2007, publishers have abandoned the paid ramparts at outlets including CNN, The Economist and The Financial Times.

Sure it’s nice for advertisers to know that a consumer loves a publisher’s site enough to pay for it. Opening the gates do let in riffraff who may not be so desirable. But from a marketer perspective, the more, the better. You potentially create greater scale for advertisers, and they want as much scale as possible.

Essentially, the Times is betting it can generate enough advertising revenue and/or goodwill to more than make up the loss of $10 million in subscription revenue. That’s a lot of ads, but the popular columns and archives that were behind the pay wall are popular material and should generate a lot of page views.

Of course, niche sites with unduplicated or especially compelling content will always be able to charge something for content. In addition to the free photos and articles Playboy posts online, it sells three tiers of paid access.

The Times is ending its premium service with 227,000 paying subscribers, 471,200 people who got access as part of their print subscriptions and 89,200 college students and employees who signed up for free access. It has sold sponsorship ads to American Express across The Content Formerly Known as Times Select.



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