Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The liberation of Paul Krugman

Here's news: The NYTimes is discontinuing its TimesSelect program, by which most of their op-ed columns were placed behind a pay-per-view wall.

The TimesSelect gimmick began just shy of two years ago. I wondered at the time if they were slightly overestimating the demand for Maureen Dowd and David Brooks.

According to the NYPost:
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.

I wonder how many of those readers they'll recapture in the months to come? After the 1982 NFL strike, I never watched much pro football again--I just realized there were things I would rather do with my Monday nights and the month of January.

For me, the most attractive feature of the TimeSelect program was access to its archives, not participation in the regular online gabfests with MoDo. Still wasn't enough to get me to cough up the bucks, though.

What other metrics are there to gauge the effects of the TimeSelect experiment? Links from blogs almost certainly must have declined once the pay-per wall went up, although newspapers have been extraordinarily unwilling to acknowledge the existence, let alone the importance to their business models, of blogs.

That might have a second consequence: The Post article notes that much of the agitating for dumping the TimeSelect system came from in-house. In addition to losing readers, I wonder just how happy the writers were to participate in the on-line chats that were a perk of the Select subscription. Not all columnists have been pleased, over the years, to face questioning (or competition) from the online rabble.

It's been a long time since I felt a strong need to read most of the Times editorial offerings--Friedman and Brooks haven't added anything new in years, Dowd has become tiresome. Frank Rich has been the most easily available under the pay-per regime, so his readers will notice the least change. As for me, I'm delighted that I won't have to hunt around for republications of Paul Krugman's columns.

As Will Bunch memorably phrased it: "Mr. Sulzberger, tear down this wall!"


Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Fantastic, actually. Now I can read my Paul Krugman without having to do it on the down-low, so to speak.

jackbogsblog said...

For those of us who still get the dead tree version delivered to the house (reduced in width 1.5 inches effective this week, BTW), TimesSelect was thrown in for free with the subscription.