Times Select Crashes & Burns: Told You So!

Here’s part of what I wrote about the New York Times decision to put their columnists behind a subscription wall back in May of 2005,

“This decision may lead to more short term dollars for the New York Times, but it’s a mistake that will cost them money and influence in the long-term…

The problem with this is that once you stick all the columnists behind a $49.95 subscription wall, the number of people reading those writers will drop like an anvil out of a helicopter. The reality is that there is so much free content out there — and free content of high quality — that most people just aren’t going to pay for what they can get for free. Even if the Times does make money off of the deal, they’ll probably end up trading 90% of their online audience to get 10% of their readers to fork over dough.

…Now, if your #1 selling feature for a membership (by far) is your popular columnists, then long-term, how are you going to continue to rake in the loot if you’re killing off their fanbase by requiring a subscription to read them?

If the goal here is make a one time killing at a price of severely cutting into the New York Times online audience while also markedly reducing the popularity of the Times columnists, this makes sense. Otherwise, somebody at the New York Times should think twice about whether this is a good idea or not.”

Here’s the latest from the New York Post on the Times Subscription wall,

“The New York Times is poised to stop charging readers for online access to its Op-Ed columnists and other content, The Post has learned.

After much internal debate, Times executives – including publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. – made the decision to end the subscription-only TimesSelect service but have yet to make an official announcement, according to a source briefed on the matter.

… While other online publications were abandoning subscriptions, the Times took the opposite approach in 2005 and began charging for access to well-known writers, including Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Thomas L. Friedman.

The decision, which also walled off access to archives and other content, was controversial almost from the start, with some of the paper’s own columnists complaining that it limited their Web readership.

In July, The Post reported that insiders were lobbying to shut down the service. After two years, however, the move to do away with TimesSelect may have more to do with growth than grumbling inside the paper.

The number of Web-only subscribers who pay $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year fell to just over 221,000 in June, down from more than 224,000 in April.”

So, what happened? They walled off their columnists from their fanbase, the number of people reading those columnists plunged, and eventually, as their reputations crumbled because no one was reading them, it became clear that the number of people wanting to pay the fee was flat and starting to drop.

On the upside, I get to say, “I told you so,” from more than two years ago. On the downside, this means that soon Dowd, Krugman, Friedman, Rich, Herbert and Company will be regularly quoted and doted on regularly by the Left again, which means you will be reading outrageous quotes from them again on conservative blogs for the first time in a couple of years. Lucky you.

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