I love the New York Times. It has been my newspaper of choice for many years. I used to pay $50 per month for 7 days a week home delivery, but in the past few years my travel schedule caused me to cut my subscription to Sundays only which is $30 per month. For a while I also read it on my Kindle for $13 a month (in addition). But when I broke my Kindle I had to cancel that. I was crazy enough to buy one of those, but not two. I also love the NY Times Reader – which is free to all subscribers.
All of this is to say that when the NY Times puts up its paywall in 2011 – I will clearly pay whatever it costs. However, the increased revenue from me and others NY Times fans like me will not save the paper and the decline will start. The only question is how long it will take for them to reverse the policy – I for one cannot imagine them riding the thing all of the way into the ground.
The big question for me is will they ride it down far enough to lose the columnists. Here is the sequence of events that I see:
1) Paywall up (now to include the NY Times Bloggers too): Sometime in 2011.
2) Readership down, revenues up: Hard to dispute this, there is no way a paywall will increase readership and it will generate some revenue.
3) Print readership down, online readership down: There is no way the paywall will cause me to go back to daily delivery of the print edition – and if they are not getting it from me, they are not getting it from anyone. At the same time everyone who now links to stories will stop doing that because they don’t want to send their readers to a subscription page. I never link to WSJ stories for this reason.
4) Advertising revenue down: As soon as the advertisers realize they are reaching fewer people, they will stop advertising, or stop paying as much to advertise.
5) Columnists defect: To me the NY Times is Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, and sometimes Frank Rich – who knows why he gets twice the column inches of the others – but that is a story for another day. Columnists want to be in the conversation. Once behind the paywall they will be removed from the debate. The times will have even less money so even if the columnists would stay for more money, the NY Times will not be able to pay it.
6) Columnists go, I go.
The timing of this will be very interesting. Who knows what contractual obligations the columnists have, but if I were the publisher of the Post, or the LA Times, or any other paper, I would be talking to these incredible assets right now – and they probably are.