Saturday, January 23rd, 2010
“The way to kill a newspaper is to ask more for less.”
That’s how legendary newsman Sir Harold Evans’ sums up publishing economics in his autobiography My Paper Chase.
The New York Times should remember Sir Harold’s rule as it builds a paywall around its online content.
The paywall will mean not only that readers pay more, but that they’ll get less. Why? As the newspaper of record, The New York Times currently is a must-read for any card-carrying member of the commercial, media, educational, or government elite. The paper is read, in part, because everyone reads it.
With fewer post-paywall readers, the paper will become less relevant, less essential. Which means the NYT will be charging more for less.
So how might NYT add value for its online patrons even as it raises prices?
The paper should spend the next year ramping the social network, currently nascent, among its readers, writers, editors and partners. Some of these social functions could be built in-house, others should be bolted on from LinkedIn and Facebook Connect.
Under this scenario, the newspaper’s prodigious reporting and analysis becomes the excuse for people to come to NYT.com, but the people themselves and the insights they swap are the essential reason for staying.
In a world deluged with opinions, rumors, and billions pixels pumped out by anybody with a cellphone, smart Times readers might pay to hobnob with a self-selected elite community.
As with the Times’ planned content paywall, drive-by readers would be able to sample and peek inside the social network, but could not get inside the site’s functionality to really participate in the social hubbub.
Turning its paywall into a velvet rope might raise the value of NYT.com’s product enough to justify raising prices.
Sir Harold, hater of class snobbery and champion of the newspaper’s roll as spokesman for the non-elite, might well hate my idea. And I don’t don’t find the idea entirely palatable either. But I’d certainly prefer this solution to watching NYT.com disappear into penury and irrelevance behind a paywall.
Do I think the Club NYT idea would work? I’d say its odds of working well are only 50/50. But those odds are fifty times better than NYT’s current plan to charge for online content plan, which, with apologies to Sir Harold, seems like the way to kill a website.