Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New York Times Is Ending Walled-Off Content at Midnight Tonight

It's about time:

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night.

The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

The Times said the project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.

“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

Well. That's one way to put it. Here's another:
It's been two years since I've read Maureen Dowd. I've only seen Frank Rich's column when another blogger has posted it. Sometimes, there would [be] investigative pieces put behind the wall that I would have liked to have read and blogged about. Sometimes I read them on Lexis the next day. Mostly, I forgot by then.

The Times Select program had to be one of the worst decisions ever -- both business-wise for the Times and for news consumers.

Now that it's over, I'll be spending more time at the site.

In other words, what changed was that it finally sunk into the thick skulls of NYT's management that no one was going to pay to read Maureen Dowd or Frank Rich.

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