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This week The New York Times announced that it would be making another round of newsroom layoffs (100 to be exact) before the end of the year. The news is sad, and many of the paper's readerstook to the comments of the article announcing the layoffs to show their support for the paper, saying they want to pay for access.

According to Mediaite, 37% of the commenters said they'd be willing to pay for access to New York Times content. That's great for morale at the newspaper, but it still doesn't make a pay wall a good idea.

Many of the commenters on the site this week said they wanted to pay, but couldn't. Like Anne Hills:

"I want to pay for my online use of the New York Times. I read the site multiple times a day. I can’t imagine life without it. Why oh why can’t somebody come up with a good way to get this money out of the hundreds of thousands of readers who would gladly pay for the content? Figure it out now! I have my credit card ready."

But the problem with a New York Times pay wall was never that the paper couldn't get anyone to pay for access to its content. It's just that the paper couldn't get enough people to pay to make up for the loss in advertising when readers flee from the pay wall. (Even with 227,000 Times Select subscribers the paper decided to open access to all of its content in 2007.)

Many of the commenters suggested that the Times insitute a public radio type option, and ask for donations from readers. Here's Rich, from New York:

"At the least, you should do the NPR model of encouraging users to pay for accessing your website or using your great iPhone app.

Perhaps you could offer special perks to people who pay? One idea would be making feature articles and op-ed columns available to subscribers earlier than to the general public?"

The Times is looking for various new methods of charging for its content, and it's already learned that a non-porous pay wall isn't going to work. But there's nothing to say that various methods and pricing options for different readers won't work. 

As advertising dollars have shrunk over the past year, The Times has become more aggressive in its acceptance of — and placements — of advertising. That means roadblocks and homepage takeovers have become more prevalent. That's fine for most readers, but loyalists who go to the website throughout the day can quickly get brand fatigue.

Rather than simply ask for donations, The Times can easily give brand evangelists something they want — unadulterated content — and get something in return.

Here's a simple revenue earner. Why doesn't the paper offer paid access to an ad free New York Times online? They probably wouldn't get huge numbers on this subscription, but it could do one thing straightaway (besides granting the paper free reign for more obtrusive advertising): give all the commenters who are dying to fork over money to The Times an easy way to do so.

Image: NYT

Meghan Keane

Published 21 October, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (1)

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Thomas

"Figure it out now! I have my credit card ready..."

Great! Unfortunately, like the post here points out, readers cannot hope to replace advertising revenue. In fact, in good advertising times, the revenue from subscriptions was probably incidental. They could have given the paper away for free in, say, 1999. 

The thing is: readers always thought they were crucial to the success of their favorite paper, but they weren't. It's an almost entirely ad-subsidized distribution system, and that's now its downfall. There's also that embarassing thing about chopping down a forest and distributing it all over the world each morning in thin sheets, which are tossed in the trash at the end of the day. That's pretty distasteful in 2009. 

about 7 years ago

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