Tuesday, May 17, 2005

NOT-SO-FREE PRESS. Duty calls, but I want to say a quick word about the New York Times Company's decision to start charging for some online content from the Times, most notably its op-ed-page columnists - a move so startling that it managed to penetrate the blogworld yesterday even in the face of the Newsweek controversy.

First, this is an admission that a business model has failed, at least for now. The whole idea of Web publishing was supposed to be that, by chucking the need for a printing press and a distribution system, the costs of manufacturing would be so much lower that there would be no need to charge readers. The model would be over-the-air network television, paid for entirely by advertisers. Unfortunately, Web advertising, though healthier than it was immediately after the dot-com bust, has never lived up to expectations. Then, too, it's interesting that the Web-as-broadcasting model is striking out even as television-as-broadcasting is declining in the face of competition from cable, satellite, and various pay services.

Second, this is a real blow to the idea of a blog-driven national conversation - a point made by many bloggers already, and put especially well here by Andrew Sullivan. It's hard to link to Times columnists if you can't be sure your readers don't have access to them. The Wall Street Journal realized this and started up OpinionJournal.com, a free site for its opinion-mongers. But the Times is moving in precisely the opposite direction, charging only for its opinion writers. The Journal also has a workaround that allows bloggers who are subscribers to provide links that will work even for non-subscribers. I hope the Times does the same. A cautionary example: the New Republic has virtually disappeared from this conversation since it went to a subscription based model, despite offering oodles of sharp political commentary.


Wes said...

Not one person known to me has, in over 50 years, shelled out a cent to read The Wall Street Journal's opinions. The thought sends a recurring frisson.

By the same token bloggers assume way more importance than is factually due. They pander to themselves. Very little real information can be gleaned from the mewl comprising the world of blog; it is very similar to talk radio. Babble.

Anonymous said...

Frisson, Wes? Quelle dommage! WSJ has emerged as one of the better Op-Ed venues, on or off the web. If you don't like the right-leaning editorialists, methinks the NYT will satiate your "progressive" thirst. Perhaps revisiting who writes editorials and why is in order. A bientot!

Anonymous said...

Wes needs to wake up and smell the hyper-text. While the bloggers may not be generating information, their impact is real. Ignore them at your peril.

You might not like what you hear on talk radio, you might not like what you see on the blogs, but since the arrival of Rush Limbaugh on the national scence (1992) and the subsequent growth of talk radio, the Republicans have basically had control of the federal goverment, despite an overwhelming presence of the left in Hollywood and the media.

Oh and I have paid for the Wall Street Journal, just to read the editorials.

Kennedy: The problem with the free content model is not as you describe. The Times, and others, are still generating a physical product that has a cost to produce and distribute. That's not the way the Web publishing business model is supposed to work.

"[C]hucking the need for a printing press and a distribution system" has not happened so therefore you ought not write the obit for this business model yet.

John Farrell said...

It's a shame the Times doesn't adopt the same approach as OpinionJournal, or NRO's site for that matter, i.e., by all means charge for main content, BUT produce some online only content that remains free. Keep online readers coming.

If Wes thinks blogs provide no information, then CBS wouldn't have gotten toasted over the National Guard memos, and Dan Rather would still have a job, and Trent Lott would still be leading the Senate, and...so on.

Bake McBride said...

Here is why this is so serious: As long as their information and commentary is free, the NYTimes draws intelligent, critical readers from across the political spectrum. Knowledgeable commentators (in fact, often people with more education about certain issues than the Times employees themselves) raise important issues that the Times's readership often swallows with unquestioning obedience (an example of a terrific critic in this style is Mickey Kaus). Behind the curtain, none of this will take place. People who disagree with the Times (who do not subscribe) wont pay for its work. This will be a big detriment to the American Public Sphere. And it will hurt NYTimes readers and employees, who will find the work less scrutinized. This will further create a self-reinforcing culture. The disconnect between the Old Grey Lady and the majority of Americans will grow. It might help the bottom line, but it does a disservice to the employees and the readership.

John Galt said...

Difficult to see why the creation of Times Select ought to exercise folks 90 days in advance.

WSJ is dissed out of hand. For too many obvious reasons.

While it was nice to see Inet as a global Speaker's Corner, the sheer volume often renders it just noise.

The total of all audience of talk radio does not equal in numbers the 20th ranked Spanish music station. Talk radio is cheap, just like reality TV, and that will keep it on air.

Anonymous said...

The NYT will find, as the Los Angeles Times found with its subscription-only "Calendar Live" fiasco, that walling off its most popular content to paying customers only serves to undermine the overall web initiative. I bet Pat Purcell is having a similar experience with its subscription-only access to columnists. I give it a year, tops.

agaffin said...

Who'da thunk it? The New York Times taking a lead from the Boston Herald?