JULY 13, 2009 5:56PM

$5: too much or too little for the N.Y. Times?

Rate: 6 Flag
By King Kaufman: I'm slowly developing this view that while there are almost no newspapers that could get anyone to pay anything for their basic content online, the New York Times can. But $5 a month, which the Times is reportedly considering, is way out of whack.

Well, this doesn't happen every day: Someone agrees with me! CNET's Rafe Needleman writes, "The Internet is a dollar store."

Main point: "You want your price point to be so low that people don't think about it. $5 a month is $60 a year, real money for most people. $1? Far fewer people experience the payment of a dollar as an actual transaction ... wouldn't you rather collect a little money from a lot of people, than a fair price from just a few?"

On the other hand, Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab has some sharp words for the Times' reported $5-a-month plan: "Charge me more."

"The Times is the premier brand in American journalism," Benton writes, "and it appeals to an elite audience. Charging anything for access to a newspaper web site is going to drive away a lot of readers. But if you’re going to charge and go through the massive dislocation of turning something free into something with a price tag -- charging just $5 makes it seem like a damaged item in the discount bin."

Benton argues that the Times wouldn't generate enough revenue by charging "only" five bucks a month, that the plan ignores what we know about micropayments -- they don't work -- and that it sets a low ceiling for what other papers can charge.

This blog would argue that, for most papers, whatever the Times does, the ceiling is sitting on the floor.

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I agree with your "real money" perspective. I am used to web content being free and so while the editors of particular sites, whether it be Slate or Salon, no doubt think they're site is SO SPECTACULAR that people should throw out all they believe about other web sites....that's just not going to happen.

I used to post at Table Talk when it was free, but frankly, a couple of hundred dollars a year is REAL MONEY to me and I can find other places to post my snarky opinions for free.

The bottom line is that I get news and opinions from so many places on a daily/weekly basis: Slate, Salon, CNN, USA Today, NPR, pgatour.com, lpga.com, si.com, golfobserver.com - that I simply CAN'T AFFORD to pay them all for it.

But....as you point out, if a web site can get beyond that "diminishing our brand equity" mentality and charge a small amount from a HUGE audience - then maybe it would be a no-brainer.

As an additional suggestion I would advise the New York Times to accept PayPal, because for many people, including me - the thought of giving my credit card information to yet another organization online is enough to make me think twice. Also, if they pull that "once you give us your information we'll automatically renew your subscription every year" crap - I might balk also.
They should look at a system like Montreal's bike sharing program. You pay a flat fee which entitles you to use any bike for half an hour. Keep the bike for longer and you get a charge on your credit card.

If they were smart, a flat fee like $50 a year entitles you to let's say 10 free articles a day. But let's say, there's a big news day, or you're researching something and you spend the day looking through their archives, then maybe you get charged an extra buck a click. Or on Sundays you might find youself spending an extra few bucks, if they've got a really rich features section. New Yorkers might want to take out some kind of premium subscription, since there are more stories that would appeal to them. Whereas international readers probably wouldn't go past the flat fee as often.

What do you think?
Another place that uses that system successfully is e-music where you pay a subscription rate based on how often you think you're going to use the service. I never, ever use all my downloads there. But I keep the subscription going, because I never know when I'm suddenly going to get the urge to download an old Pavement record.

here's why. please note that the person she quotes. who would pay money for such such lazy circle jerks?
I am currently not reading my free online NYT either.

Will resume reading it (or paying for it), only if it were to state: From now on we will not be subservient to our advertisers, will derive ALL of our revenues from paying readership.

But that doesn't seem to be a viable business model for them.
ugh... i should have checked my comment for typos! ach, we bloggers are so lazy!
what they need to do is pay people to read their stuff. Not much, just a few cents. Each reader would have a paypal type online account that would accept micro funds from any paying website.
They could recover the money from the advertisers .
Better still as most of the mainstream press no longer do proper investigative reporting they should get paid by the interests they shill for.
I would pay the $5, pay that currently for the Sunday. They used to have premium pay and free sections online and the weekend subscription included premium access.

The advertising is an integral part of the product, and the NYT is better than most at maintaining the "wall" between the editorial and the business sides of the paper.

With the hits to credibility that they have had lately you can be sure that they think about that when ever they come in off of the window ledge.

Ads are OK by me, having worked in both newspaper publishing and advertising it is clear that these are intelligent professions and my belief is that journalism will continue to play an important role in our democracy in it's role of the fourth estate as described by James Burke.

Burke is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.
$20 a year. I would do that, but even so I wonder how successful they will be charging for what has been free. It is one thing when that happens to parking, you have to park your car somewhere, but you don't HAVE TO read the New York Times.
It's not about the money. It's about the idea that they are asking for money. I pay for satellite TV and barely turn the set on. It's the same recycled stuff all day long. Smart assessment.
I read Benton's article-- he's not arguing for higher prices to make us feel chic, he argues, as you note, that $5 won't fix the Times financial problems. So presumably, we'll still be looking at cost cutting savings-- fewer foreign bureaus, less for long-term, investigative reports, who knows.

He's also saying that $1. $2.50 or $5 a month -- won't increase the number of subscribers who would otherwise balk at $10. Once you're in, you're in, he argues. It may not be a marketing theory that appeals to us, but it may also be true.

I value foreign bureaus and investigative journalism, and I also fit the marketing profile. In for a penny, in for a pound. $10, $5, -- I probably wouldn't spend too much time contemplating the difference.

One side angle-- I'm concerned, as Benton is, for smaller town and more regional papers. If I pay for the Times, I might let my local paper go. But like most Americans, I may have been McDonalized into thinking that nothing should cost much. Meanwhile, my parents, who would never buy a cup of coffee to carry with them, could afford a few newspapers. Back in those days, the newspaper industry thrived.
If the NYTpaid me $200.00 a month, I'd look at their site once a day but no more than once a day. The NYT's turgid prose is deadly & boring. You must pay me to look at the NYT. Compare a NYT business report with what the WSJ or FT say on the same subject. Both financial papers give you much more information is far fewer words the the NYT uses & wastes. Besides occasionally the stories in the financial papers are true. You can't say that of the NYT.

Got that? Good, tell Pooch Sulzberger that if he pays me $200.00 a month, I'll look at the NYT for 5 minutes every day.
Since you asked, the rate for the Chicago Tribune & USA Today is $700.00 a month for 3 minutes of my time every day.
I suggest we start a new government program, because as you know we don't have enough. Let's pay the NY Times a subsidy like we do the farmers...not to print the times.
Hey T.S. I like it! It's a "Go Green" subsidy. Just think of all the trees we'll save. Maybe we can subsidize them not to turn on their web servers too & make The NYT officially Carbon Neutral. :)
How about you pay $5 and give me your password? ; )
Aside from the fact that the Times confirms my own biases I wouldn't pay a cent to read it. Other than the book reviews and the odd blog from Cavett, there is nothing there that I couldn't find elsewhere on the net. Me pay to read? Elitist that I am, how about they pay me to read their rag...
Personally, I don't think the NYT is worth $1.00. And I think that Neiman Lab is in the business of turning out journalists of the stenographic school of journalism. So who cares what Harvard thinks? The real J schools are found in the blogs.
"Better still as most of the mainstream press no longer do proper investigative reporting they should get paid by the interests they shill for."

How is that different from other postings online. There seems to be an assumption made by many people here that "free" online postings are inherently more honest or at least less beholden to "interests" that MSM organizations.

Where is the proof for that?
I think you're right, King Kaufman. But then again, I usually do. Props.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Joshua Benton posts more ass-brained garbage than any significant voice in the debate. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that without that Harvard bump, he'd be just another laid-off cobwebs dot blogspot with a dusty Philip Meyer in his sidebar.

"Charge me more." Fuck you.
I wouldn't care, wouldn't pay, and wouldn't bother with the NYT again.
NYT used to be the home screen on my browser. I changed that when they started trying to charge me to read Maureen Dowd and whoever the conservative OpEd guy was before David Brooks. Don't remind me of his name - he used to have me spitting and popping before the sun came up in the morning sometimes.

Anyhow, the only time I go to the Times now is to check on the Mets. Oh, I scan the cover but rarely find anything too compelling; much of it is news or opinion I've gotten days and sometimes weeks before from other sources.

In fact, I know it's heresy, but since I joined Open Salon, I don't even read "Big" Salon so much anymore, because there's not much that goes on in the world that I can't find out about in very timely fashion here and - to a lesser extent - Twitter. I do miss you, King, and Andrew Leonard and GlennG; really need to make more time to get back over there.

Anyhoo, my thought is that if tangible newspapers are going to die, which wouldn't be such a bad thing for the environment, but will make it tough for those without access to the Internets, and the news organizations have to charge readers something to supplement ad revenue in order to keep producing the news, people ought to be willing to pay whatever they paid for the paper itself: 50¢ a day and 2 bucks on Sunday, or something less if they're willing to pay for a month in advance.
Didn't they already try this once, and it didn't work? What makes them think it will work this time, with a considerably worse economy?
Just to pile on, its a bad idea. It kind of goes back to that journalistic hubris we talk about on occasion. Jarvis has a great post on this title Journalistic Narcissim (http://www.buzzmachine.com/2009/07/04/journalistic-narcissism/) which in a nutshell says the news media have wrapped themselves into a mythology that only they are qualified to not only deliver the news to you but which news as well. And therefore you should be willing to pay us $x a year to get that news.

That's all well and good when news is being delivered on printed material from one source to many readers. But now, when we all have access to a variety of sources, as niched as we want it to be, when we can be the source if we so choose, what is it exactly that the NYT is going to deliver to me that is worth the $60?

I'm ok with getting cut out of the NYT loop if I don't pay up, I will not be uninformed.
I will miss Maureen, Frank, Paul and even David, once the NYT starts charging. But I cannot support a paid model for them. While the NYT may be one of the few online newspapers to deserve a few of my shekels, paying them will only encourage my local rag to start charging as well. Not only is my local paper not worth it, paying for content will soon mean being nickel and dimed by every two-bit publication. Bottom line, as one commenter says, is that they need to choose between a user-supported or ad-supported model. Going for both gives the reader short shrift, because the needs of the advertisers always come first. I prefer the Salon model. Want perks? Volunteer to pay extra for premium service. And what the NYT will do with this move is close off their best writers, the aforementioned columnists on their opinion pages, to the young people who are their future audience. A dumb move that needs to be resisted.
The comments to this post are far more interesting than the post itself, revealing that many don't view the NYT, with its international bureaus and army of editors, as a valuable source of information. Are these the people who think "tweets" will keep them up to speed on the world? Or have years of zombie-like devotion to video games eroded their attention spans to the point that they can digest only dispatches of fewer than 100 words?

I can tell you I'm on the verge of cutting my NYT home delivery, at $58/month for seven days, to Friday through Sunday and going with the online version. If the Times charged $5/month, it would still be a bargain. But who knows? Elasticity of demand may be better at $1/month. As for Benton's assertion that micropayments don't work, Steve Jobs would be happy to tell him about the billions the iTunes store has reaped in recent years. For sure, I wouldn't pay a dime for his analysis.