The New York Times will stop charging from September 19 for online content covered under its TimesSelect program. Until this move TimesSelect content on the newspaper’s online site, including some opinion columns, was charged for separately.
The move by The New York Times reflects how newspapers are trying to come to terms with the online world, and the implicit demand from users that information should be free.
There are reports that The Wall Street Journal, a subscription-only financial news site may slowly move to offering more if not all content free, after it is acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
In the circumstances, newspapers will have to rely more on online advertising for online revenues, while charging only for the print editions. As more readers move online, the revenue mix is getting skewed in the direction of advertising revenue, and away from subscriptions.
The TimesSelect was introduced two years ago by the newspaper in a bid to make some money from readers on select content. But this hybrid model, which combined subscription revenue with advertising revenue online, did not really pay off.
The newspaper made about US$10 million in revenue annually from TimesSelect, but it lost out on a number of readers, including those coming through search engines, who were not willing to pay for the content, but would have been an attractive target for advertisers.
The New York Times also introduced almost a year ago the Times Reader, an offline reader for the online newspaper. Readers can download content into the reader, and then read it offline in an easily navigated and flexible format. The New York Times was offering TimesSelect free with the Times Reader.
With TimesSelect now free, subscribers of the reader may not renew their monthly subscription of $14.95. The Times Reader proposition was not very compelling when the New York Times started charging for it, and is now less so. The Times Reader provides an interesting reading experience, but to many it hardly justifies paying $14.95 per month for it.
The newspaper is better off making the Times Reader also free, making up for lost subscriptions with advertising. The Times Reader would then be a strategic tool in the New York Times’ contest for eyeballs and advertising revenue.