How Will the New York Times Get Readers to Pay?
At a time when traditional media markets are suffering for advertising, there have been a number of ideas floated for how to attract and maintain customers, from micro-transactions, where readers pay a tiny fee per article that they read, to monthly access fees and locking articles away from the casual reader.
There has been quite a lot of talk from different organisations about what they are planning to do and what they might do, but when a major media organisation steps forward and states that content that has previously been advertising-supported only for revenue will soon be going behind a so-called pay-wall, it suggests that this sort of future is closer than many have feared.
Recent reporting links the New York Times media group to a decision to be made in August about how exactly to take the previously openly accessible content of the New York Times and associated outlets to a user-pays basis online.
The Wall Street Journal is well known as probably the most successful news outlet to serve their content to paying customers online, but it is largely focussed on financial news, and could still be argued to be a niche provider. If the New York Times goes ahead with the plan to make users pay, it would be the first significant non-niche newspaper group to do so.
With information freely available from a range of sources online, with global newspapers and media sources only a few keystrokes away, does the New York Times Group have what it takes to be able to keep on attracting customers once it takes its content away from free public view? The New York Times used to provide a similar service, TimesSelect, however the premium service was closed two years ago, only bringing around $10 million USD in revenue annually. That might be fine for a smaller organisation, but it isn't enough to keep something like the New York Times going.
It might not have much choice if it wants to keep alive and a powerful media outlet, with more than half its market value wiped out in the last 12 months alone. Trying to become a lean and efficient organisation has also resulted in the reduction of staffing numbers to almost a third of where they were five years ago. With other organisations, such as the Associated Press also making moves to have users pay for access to content it might just be a matter of waiting long enough to have enough providers locking away their content before it becomes cost effective. On the other hand, news bodies that continue to release information without this encumbrance are likely to see a surge in popularity and the companies locking away their content could easily see a loss in readership, mindshare, and revenues.
Monetizing website viewers, especially on sites which deliver unique and valuable content is a prickly question that every site owner and operator has to deal with at some time. When the New York Times makes its decision about how to increase monetization of readers it will be worth watching to see how it affects not only news organisations but also the nature of content production and publication on the Internet in general.
6 August 2009
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