NY Times considers another run at paid web content

New York Times

When it comes to funding online news, most ideas revolve around either wringing more dollars from advertisers, or somehow convincing consumers to pay for access to content.

The New York Times continues to explore the latter approach, despite the disappointing returns from the Times Select pay wall which was dismantled in 2007 after two years of operation. [For more on Times Select, watch this video interview with former Times VP-Digital Vivian Schiller.]

Writing in the New York Observer today, John Koblin quotes Times executive editor Bill Keller as telling staff this week that the company is consider two options:

  • Allow users to view content freely, then charge if they go over a certain limit
  • Invite users to contribute voluntarily through a NY Times membership – the benefits of which could include access to special online content

Jeff Jarvis lampoons the first idea, pointing out that it (like other content payment ideas) discourages readers from doing exactly what websites want: spending more time on site, and viewing more content.

Readers’ inner dialogue is not hard to imagine: ‘Uh-oh, should I read that next story – and see that ad and maybe find something worth linking to and bring in other readers? It might start costing me. I’d better conserve my Times characters; they’re adding up; already read 20,000 of them. I think it’s time to go elsewhere now.’

The second approach is hard to imagine taking hold – although at least in the United States there is a tradition of voluntary financial support for public broadcasting from individuals and institutions. And really, isn’t membership-based access to content just another way of saying “paying for content”? The challenge for the Times will be to make that fly in a way that Times Select couldn’t.

Koblin says Times execs will make a decision by next month.