Can you put a price on anyone's opinion?

by David Spark on August 9, 2007

The New York Post reported yesterday that The New York Times is giving up on its paid content model known as TimesSelect. Started two years ago, The NYTimes discovered that their editorial pages of Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, and others were consistently making the top ten list of most read and forwarded articles. In an effort to create another revenue stream, the biz dev department of NYTimes thought it would be a great idea to stick these great opinion writers, who were consistently bringing in the most traffic, behind a paid walled garden.

Listen to the Spark Minute (John Scott and David Spark from Green 960 in San Francisco, CA). Trying to answer the question, “Is there any way to make money from text-based content?” (Run time: 7:37).

Download the MP3 (right-click, select Save Target As...)

UPDATE: I originally reported that subscribers were 221,000 in June and it was decreasing as reported by the NYP, but according to the NYTimes (as reported by PaidContent.org) they say it's actually increasing and the number is more like 224,000. Those subscribers are responsible for more than an additional $11 million in revenue. One question I don't know the answer to is, how does that dollar amount compare if they made that content free and sold advertising on it? Here's where I think The New York Times' paid content model fails (BTW, we still don't know if it's officially going back to free):
  • Nobody NEEDS opinion - The reason the Wall Street Journal's paid model succeeds is because they have information people actually need. Information that can be directly connected to business decisions. Not the case with what Maureen Dowd says.
  • There's no shortage of opinion - While being given the choice spot of The New York Times' editorial page significantly raises your stature, it's not the only place to find opinions. Newspapers and the Web are filled with them. And the blogosphere practically by definition is nothing but opinions.
  • Search engines make it easy to find similar information anywhere quickly - Prior to the Web, you bought a newspaper because it was there and it was available. If you wanted a competing paper you could look at what else was on that newsstand or you walked down to that bigger newsstand that had a larger selection. But how far away was that newsstand? You're busy in the morning. Is it worth your time? Do you bother going over there or just settle for what news is available close by? Search engines have negated this internal "is the news I want nearby" debate. The information that's behind TimesSelect can be found in many other locations.
  • No pricing model can beat free - I don't care if you bring the price down to a nickel, it's still not free.
  • Putting content behind a paid subscription model kills its potential for public popularity - Social bookmarking and recommendation tools like del.icio.us and Digg have allowed the community to spread the good word about your content. Put it behind a wall where only subscribers can see it and it simply can't take advantage of the Internet's rapid word-of-mouth viral communications.
  • Web tools help us find the best opinions - Using tools like Digg, Technorati, and Google Blog Search we can actually find the best opinions on the Internet as voted by the entire community. We're not beholden to the editors at The New York Times to tell us who has the best opinion.
  • On renewal time, subscribers ask themselves, "Did I really use it?" - Getting people to pay $50 for a yearly subscription is one thing, but now you have to convince them to come look at your special "pay for" content at least once a week so when it comes time to renew they think there's some value to keep paying. If after a year they think the TimesSelect content is no better than other free content on the newspaper's site or competing sites, then whey should they renew? Creating specialized content and convincing people to keep subscribing costs money.
  • Tiered pricing works everywhere else, why wouldn't it work here? - I understand the mentality that went into this. We live in a service economy. Many of the readers of The New York Times are willing to pay for additional service, access, or exclusive information. Unlike information in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times' TimesSelect information is not all that exclusive.
  • It was free once and now you're making us pay for it? - The Wall Street Journal began with a paid model and they've slowly been making some of its stories free. The New York Times began as free (for new content) and slowly started making people pay for it. I can't think of a single example in history where going from free to pay has actually worked over the long term.
  • The ad model for online content is proven. The paid model is not. - There are tons of different variations of serving up ads on the Internet. And as evidenced by the recent Ad:Tech conference in San Francisco, they're all doing very well and offering many solutions to presenting ad content, tracking user behavior, and connecting it to sales. There aren't many options you can spin with "pay me."
Update: BusinessWeek has an article building a case for freeing up the content on the WSJ. Take it out of subscription and support it through advertising.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

suba suba June 11, 2020 at 3:42 am

Very good blog article.Really thank you! Much obliged.

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