New York Times to begin charging a flat fee for online content

There was a time when we paid for access to content on the Internet.  Remember the days of CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy?  The advent of the World Wide Web did away with these services focing AOL to move towards a free-model instead of a paid subscription.

Today, the New York Times has announced that will will offer some articles for free on its website but frequent accesses will require a flat monthly fee.  Read about it here.

From the story: is by far the most popular newspaper site in the country, with more than 17 million readers a month in the United States, according to Nielsen Online, and analysts say it is easily the leader in advertising revenue, as well. That may make it better positioned than other general-interest papers to charge — and also gives The Times more to lose if the move backfires.

The Times Company has been studying the matter for almost a year, searching for common ground between pro- and anti-pay camps — a debate mirrored in dozens of media-watching blogs — and the system will not go into effect until January 2011. Executives said they were not bothered by the prospect of absorbing barbs for moving cautiously.

“There’s no prize for getting it quick,” said Janet L. Robinson, the company’s president and chief executive. “There’s more of a prize for getting it right.”

Frankly, this is smart.  Newspapers and other media outlets need a new model for making money.  Charging for content is smart, it’s being led by the nation’s newspaper of record and it’s a model other publications and newspapers ought to follow.  You can’t go to a newstand and take a free copy of the New York Times.  And giving away your product (news) for free isn’t economically viable in the long run.  Reporters and editors are professionals who deserve to be paid for their work – reporting the news. 

What needs to change is the old model of basing newspaper advertising rates on circulation.  It should be a combination of circulation and eyeballs on the Internet for a combined readership statistic.  If you buy an ad in the paper, you automatically get on in the online edition.  Any links to stories should also carry a link to an ad.

I know there’s a lot of speculation print edition newspapers are destined for musuems with electronic readers and Kindles taking over.  I keep wondering how my family is going to split a Kindle four ways to read different sections of the newspaper every morning.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.  A free society and a vibrant democracy depends on a free press.  But “free” here means their ability to report the news, not the price you pay for it.  If newspapers fail, where will most local radio and TV people get their news from?

  2 comments for “New York Times to begin charging a flat fee for online content

  1. RHackett
    January 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    If newspapers fail, where will most local radio and TV people get their news from?

    If they’re Glenn Beck, they’ll just make it up.

  2. Jo
    January 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    The NYT gave up on investigative journalism a long time ago, readership is down. People will obtain news from any and all legitimate sources who believe and practice journalistic integrity. People will not spend money on trash. Those who survive will give voice to many sides of arguments in opinion pieces and only the facts in actual news stories.

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