Almost a year ago I sat down with the editor-in-chief of nytimes.com at his office in New York to compare notes on running an online news service. One of the things I most wanted to talk with Len Apcar about was his site’s recent introduction of Times Select or – to put it less euphemistically – “paid content”.
Coincidentally, nytimes.com and nzherald.co.nz (where I work) introduced very similar systems of charging visitors to read some of their content within a few days of each other in September 2005. Neither of us could know where it would lead but I was reassured that nzherald was taking this bold step in very good company.
A year after the payment barrier went up the Times shows no sign of backing away. An article in Editor and Publisher reveals that some 200,000 people have paid for nytimes content so far this year (the paper’s home delivery subscribers get free access). Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty says the service “is exceeding our expectation”.
Revenue is about US$6 million so far this year – which will be a lot less than the site earns from advertising but certainly enough to keep a lot of online journalists employed.
Publisher Arthur Schulzberger told the Online News Association conference last year that his company needed to explore all possibilities for earning money on the web and that it needed to do that exploring while the economy was strong. In New York, rival newspaper the Wall St Journal has charged for access to most of its online content for years and is profitable.
In New Zealand, nzherald is still the only major news site charging for access to any of its content.