Monday, May 23, 2005

Many Watching Reaction To New York Times Charging For Part Of Its Website Beginning In September

The New York Times announcement that it will start in September charging $49.95 a year for part of its website, specifically for reading its columnists, getting an advance break on certain features and for using its archives is naturally sparking a lot of interest throughout the newspaper business.

Will this work, or will it be yet another false start in trying to develop new revenue sources for newspapers?

Just Sunday, coincidentally, the NYT's departing outside observer, called a "public editor," Daniel Okrent, winding up an 18-month assignment, was quite critical of such NYT columnists as Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and William Safire for persisting in expressing views in their columns that Okrent suggested were not supported by the facts.

Safire has now mostly retired, but Krugman persists with a column that rivals the L.A. Times' Bob Scheer for determined anti-Bush Administration invective.

The question is, will sufficient numbers of readers be willing to pay for this to make the website a financial go?

But Okrent was quite pointed in his adverse comments about the three columnists, and concluded that section of his article by observing:

"No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards."

Okrent added, "I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist."

Not all the details of the new website operation are clear, and those going to NYTimes.com these days, as in many other websites, are asked to register, give their e-mail addresses, etc.

The NYT reports it has been getting 1.7 million readers daily on its website, and users will still be able to get NYT headlines and parts of leading stories free of charge.

The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times of London have been charging subscriber fees on their websites with what is reported to be some success, although, of course, these are specialized papers that appeal to elite readerships. To some extent, the NYT is a specialized publication too, although the L.A. Times certainly rivals it in many aspects of its foreign coverage.

My guess is that to make a success of this, the NYT will have to charge for its news coverage too, that just the features to be offered will not be enough to draw a substantial clientele..

But, in time, it may work out. I buy the NYT every day out here in Los Angeles, and I subscribe to it for my son back East as a present, so I'm one of their best customers. I'm paying almost 10 times a year more for the New York Times than the Los Angeles Times, which has a year-long subscription fee at a considerably advantageous cut rate of $104

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