New York Magazine reports that the financially troubled NY Times will start charging for its online content:
New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to
announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its
website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations.
After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice
for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.
This is big news for online content producers, as the move by the Times could start a more widespread shift to walling off previously free content. Is this a good thing? Obviously it isn't for consumers as they aren't getting anything for free, but from a publishers perspective, the extra money could mean the difference between sinking or swimming. Publishers like the NY Times were grossly ill equipped for the dramatic shift online because their massive overheads began to matter when ad prices failed to rise with online readership. Faster, more streamlined publishers like the Huffington Post and Gawker began life online, so their business models accounted for relatively lower ad rates. They seem to have made it work, proving that the free content model is certainly sustainable under certain guises.
The big problem the Times will face once it switches to the metered system is that it will lose a good deal of its online relevancy. Once content goes paid, people will simply stop reading it. This isn't to say that they shouldn't do it, but in the long term, it may work against them if ad rates shoot back up and other companies find more creative ways of generating revenue.
I'm not going to criticize the Times for its move because I understand why it is doing it. Good journalism is a very valuable commodity, and journalists need to get paid. Unless the industry finds a way to survive, we'll find out the hard way what society looks like without a properly functioning press.
I have experimented with different revenue models on The Daily Banter, and most of them are currently pretty bad. I believe that providing free content with advertising is the way to go, and I'm prepared to ride out the storm in the hope of a brighter future. I could be wrong, and if so I may have to change accordingly. However, the thought of disconnecting some of my readers doesn't quite feel right, and in the spirit of the blogosphere, I'll most likely continue to do what I'm doing.