Notes from The Heart House

Brainy single-payer blog testing the waters on business, media, art and culture with the occasional critical theory slant.

Not Even Journalists Would Pay for the New York Times Online? – Why It’s So Hard

Oh, yeah, and: So would I pay for the NYT online? I still have a job in the media and get to expense my subscriptions; I don’t count. Once we all start losing our jobs, there goes another guaranteed revenue stream!

These are the final words of James Poniewozik’s current post at Time.com. Everyone knows traditional print media is having a hard time attracting revenue for their online content; he searches for answers by asking readers if they would pay for online access to the New York Times. But his final comments in the article, jokewise or not, already seems to say it all.

Firstly, he circumvents the question of whether he himself would pay for access by saying he already gets it for free for work use, so it’s moot to ask him the same. It’s one of those classic situations where if someone avoids answering a pointed question, you know what the answer is. (You know what I’m talking about.)

Secondly, he insinuates that if all journalists lost their jobs, you couldn’t expect them to pay for access then either. But as journalists in that very line of business, shouldn’t they, moreso than anyone else, understand the value of news and keep online access a priority for themselves? Even if they are cash-strapped?

This underscores the third and final point: people don’t avoid paying for news online because they only want free access, they have avoided it because money is a limited resource and news is one of those things that is the first to get crossed off the list if only for this simple fact: it is easier to get news for free than cell phone service and cable TV, and this is what drives consumer behaviour. The revenue models the New York Times is now exploring seems to incorporate this state of affairs about its product; it is most worthwhile for them to continue exploring options and alternatives until they hit that magic number where the cost is equal to the perceived value for the consumer.

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Filed under: News and Media

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for pointing me to your post. Here’s what I’d say, point by point.

    1. To unpack my answer more fully and boringly: right now I’d pay, a no brainer, because it effectively costs me nothing. If I that were not the case—then I’m answering a hypothetical, and it depends what the hypothetical is. Am I totally unemployed? I currently subscribe to the print edition (which I can’t expense because I get it at home). So maybe I’d drop that subscription, to keep food on the table, and subscribe online for an effective cost savings. Or maybe I’m partly employed. Or maybe I get a new, far more lucrative job in another career, and, why, money is no object. I shall take 10 online subscriptions! And 5 for my dog!

    The point is, it just seemed cheating to ask readers what they would do in their ACTUAL situation, and then (probably sanctimonious-seeming) say what I would do in an IMAGINARY one. But to give you one such: if I no longer had an expense account but my income was otherwise the same, yeah, I’d probably subscribe online, because I really like reading the NYT online… but I think I am FAR more willing to pay rather than do without my favorite media than my average reader is.

    2. Definitely right, I think that journalists will cut back expenses like anyone if unemployed. Now, because of our interests, we may cut, say, baseball tickets before news subscriptions. But we have budgets like anyone. I’m married to an archivist–if I’m out of work, I’m not going to get, say, Variety for $300 a year and leave the kids unshoed out of principle.

    Which brings us to your 3, and (if I follow) I think I agree with you. People pay for ANYTHING because they want it enough and they need to pay. All else is sophistry. Which is why I think the whole business of journalists moralizing about how the market owes them support because of the service they provide is ridiculous and counterproductive.

    By the way, I also believe it is by no means a given that the NYT WILL “hit that magic number where the cost is equal to the perceived value for the consumer.” There is no guarantee ANYONE will, just because we want it to be the case. (Which is why I also resist the blithe idea that, well, the current business model will go away, but, you know, somebody will invent something, and we’ll get everything we have now from that.)

    As I’ve blogged before, we should consider the possibility that much of what we think of as the business of journalism simply becomes unsustainable, and is replaced by whatever, perhaps smaller, thing can be supported by sources that are neither subscription nor traditional advertising. Which may well be anathema to what we currently think of as mainstream journalism and its church-state guidelines.

    Nothing in this world happens just because well-meaning people think it should. No institution is guaranteed to stay around simply because someone thinks it would be too horrible to contemplate its disappearance. And I think anyone planning anything in the media business needs to approach it from that cold-eyed standpoint–you can’t base a business model on believing your audience SHOULD do something to support you.

    I’ll stop rambling now; thanks for pointing me to this post.

  2. Stella Tran says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response; I think it’s okay to be hypothetical, your readers can judge for themselves if it’s a fair assessment or not. I have optimism that a sustainable model can exist, but agreed, only if we acknowledge that it is not a given, and hopefully mindsets are being forced to change even as they complain. You’re (rightfully) preparing for the worst a little more than I am, I love a good management turnaround story. Have a lovely weekend and I look forward to your next article!

  3. […] New York Times was reported to be considering charging $5 a month for access. I wrote about this before, and in reading some of the other intelligent responses in the blog community, I still find many […]

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About the Author

Stella Tran graduated in the Liberal Arts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Grinnell College and developed her professional experience in knowledge discovery and new media technology at Yahoo! Inc. (Read more.)

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