Friday, July 20, 2007

TimesSelect, R.I.P.?

Slate Magazine: By Mickey Kaus
Will TimesSelect Go Jane? Is the infamous NYT TimesSelect paywall about to disappear? kf hears rumblings that the paper is about to abandon the whole misconceived project in which it has blocked unpaid Web access to its op-ed columnists. ... P.S.: The Times claims fewer than 225,000 customers pay the $49.95 TimesSelect fee, up less than 100,000 from what the paper was claiming in November, 2005. More get the service through their regular subscriptions. Meanwhile, the Times could use the ad revenue that would come from increasing the readership of the columnists (by making them free). And the columnists would like to have the readers. ... All this was quite evident two years ago when Pinch Sulzberger embarked on this folly, of course.

My favorite from the early critiques, also from Kausfiles:
A few days ago I jokingly called for replacing TimesSelect with "TimesDelete," a service that would allow readers to pay to silence their least favorite columnists. D.A.'s email has made me realize how misdirected this proposal was. TimesSelect doesn't need to be replaced by TimesDelete. TimesSelect is TimesDelete! The Times has taken the columnists people are most willing to pay for and removed them from the public discourse on the Web.

I've subscribed to The Times (when available for delivery where I was living) for more than 30 years, so I've had easy, included access to TimesSelect myself. That does not necessarily go for my blog readers, whom I frequently refer to articles available only through TimesSelect.
I kind of like the slogan that news wants to be free, but there is a collective interest in keeping news gathering organizations (the dreaded MSM) vital and economically viable as readers shift to the net. I don't know whether charging for access to columnists is the best answer (the TimesSelect model seems rather counterproductive to the larger public aims of the Times), once the material is already up, and some have argued that its net economic benefits to the Times are minimal. I don't know what the best answer is. I'm not sure anyone does. But please: no pledge weeks.

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