The Moment Of Truth

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Are people willing to pay for what you do?

You can create great content. That content can generate all kinds of traffic and attention. That traffic and attention can bring lots of healthy conversations and comments. Over time, those conversations and comments can lead to a vibrant community. That community is there for you and will support you. But, the big question is: would they be willing to pay for it?

We’re about to find out as The New York Times announced that they are setting up a pay-wall for their online content.

The debate about online journalism and newspaper websites, their value and the general public’s interest level in paying for online content has been dissected and debated by people way smarter than you and I (just check out the insights by the likes of Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen). Regardless of the debate, I think this is the right move for The New York Times to make (are you surprised?). This will be their moment of truth (for a more official look at what a pay-to-play New York Times will look like, check out this article: New York Times -The Times to Charge for Frequent Access to Its Web Site).

"Starting in January 2011, a visitor to will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month; to read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the print newspaper, even those who subscribe only to the Sunday paper, will receive full access to the site without any additional charge."

Here are some reasons why this is not such a bad idea:

  • They will keep being indexed by Google and the other Search Engines.
  • That search indexing will still bring in big-time branding, awareness and link love.
  • For the majority of people coming into contact with the occasional article from the New York Times, the content will still be free.
  • While this may deliver less banner ad impressions overall, the quality, targeting and readership analytics will deliver a more quality CPM and better targeting.
  • If enough people love the content (and feel like they can’t live without it), they will pay for it. Happily.
  • The New York Times will learn – in short order – what the truth is about their circulation and readership.

Most media pundits are focusing on whether or not readers will pay versus finding the same news elsewhere for free. As much as you can get news from anywhere and everywhere you can’t get the perspective of the individual writers and journalists that make up an issue of the New York Times. If what they are producing is of value to enough people, those people will pay for this content and the New York Times will reap the financial rewards of this.

Is there a better way of knowing if what you’re doing is really of value or has a future?


  1. I agree them having a pay wall might work. I know Crains has subscription based content and if you want the content people do pay for it. Plus, I was involved since 2001-02 in a subscription based community. I think if they would have kept their content up to date then they would still be around. Too bad this year the community officially ended. It was worth the money for the friendships built but the content was so horrible that in the end it deserved to be put out of its misery plus times have changed too.

  2. No, people are not willing to pay for content. But sponsors are willing to pay me for highlighting their product IN my content. As high as $25 dollars (US) per $30 words or equating to about $900 per hour. It’s like old TV, Hulu, etc, marketing driven media. Free over the airwaves, but there are commercials. Is that a paying model? I still get paid, just not directly by the consumers of my content. It’s an arrangement that works for me as long as I am comfortable with the exchange and don’t spend too much time on the product.

  3. Well, David Chase thinks it’s a good idea, and far be it for humble ol’ me to disagree with David Chase.
    But actually, in this case, I do disagree with him (and with you too, Mitch, sorry). I don’t think people will be willing to pay for the additional content here. There’s nothing that is all that much better or differentiated from what’s widely available for free. Maybe if a few other major media outlets came on board… But I think we’ve been so conditioned to the notion that “information should be free”, that it’s going to be a tough sell, to say the least.

  4. I don’t think that the normal person who just happens to stumble across a NY Times article is going to pay. With that said, I do think that they will still capture their core base who are the people who read the paper for the individual journalist. I think overall, this will be a good thing for them in the end.

  5. Great perspective Mitch, not seen in many forums that I frequent. It may not be obvious but my being over fifty makes me I think a non ideal candidate for an online subscription to the Times. I currently have the Globe and Mail as one of my six automatic home pages when I open IE. I first view my email then Google Reader, next Google Analytics then I will travel to G&M and it is usually a short stay, a quick dose of headlines (interesting that it becomes more obvious the biases a newspaper has when scanned this way), click on a few stories and leave. I find it difficult to spend time reading an article online and this may be a function of my age. Would I pay if the Globe went subscription, not a chance. The NY Times choice of minimal monthly access at least gives them a chance to win new younger fans who will pay them dollars every month for years to come and I applaud them for trying.
    Your topic today made me consider the Blogs that flow into my reader and their worth. Would I pay for them? The answer in varying degrees was yes as those I would not pay for I have already unsubscribed to. Of course there is a major difference between these category specific Blog writers (trying to prove to me their expertise, they figuratively swing for the fences of my hiring their firms) and the broad scope of the Times (will anyone pay for broad scope online?).
    Going for the “long ball” is the right choice for your firm Mitch but should you change your mind my CC is ready.

  6. When I finally got an iPod (and I have now moved on to an iPhone), I was won over by iTunes and paying for individual tracks and audiobooks. I will gladly pay for content on my iPhone.
    As a Canadian, I don’t yet own a Kindle (yes, I know they are available in Canada now; but, seeing content that Americans can download and then I can’t would drive me nuts).
    It would take an amazing eReader in my hands (new Apple tablet?) to change my view on whether I would want to pay for content from the New York Times.
    Without that amazing eReader or some game changing device and content delivery system like Apple’s produced, it’s the same-old-same-old and so I don’t know what the New York Times is thinking.
    Or, is this all building up to the arrival of the new Apple tablet? Hmmm ….

  7. Here’s my favorite answer to everything – it depends.
    Personally I would not pay for a NY Times subscription, paper or online, but I think their core readership would. If content is unique, factual, unbiased, and of high of quality, then I don’t see an issue charging for it. It costs a lot of money to write like that. The NYT certainly falls under this, but that doesn’t mean *I’m* interested in the content. Straight news from the NYT is easy to find elsewhere online, but specific journalist and editorial pieces are of enough interest that people would be willing to open their wallets. US$50 in the States is a world different than US$50 in India. Prorating the fees globally will be tricky.
    People have paid subscriptions for professional and medical journals and research reports and have never balked at it. I think the readership for the NYT will drop faster than a brick off a cliff, but what will be left will be a more dedicated group, willing to pay for content. For years it’s been crowed that quality is better than quantity, so why is having 100x readers that aren’t that dedicated (or paying) better than having 1x that truly value the content – and are willing to pay for it?
    Using a blog (or any other form of online publishing) to make money in the form of advertising or sponsored posts (as Adam referred to) is a different model entirely. Disclosure aside, I think this is the way to go for content that is worthy of payment, but with open readership that would benefit the advertiser more than the reader.

  8. What interests me here is not my personal view on whether I would pay for the content from NYT but more about their business model. You would assume that their projections suggest that they can be more profitable going down this road but I’d love to know what volumes they are basing this on given the anticipated loss of advertising revenue.
    I love the move and this needed to be tested by a larger outlet.

  9. I agree a lot with Ron De Giusti. I too have no problem paying for content on iTunes even though I could probably get most of the same content for free through less legitimate channels. Part of my reasoning is the convenience of getting the content easily and the belief that whomever created it deserves some form of recompense for their efforts.
    I currently pay for a Globe and Mail subscription even though I could read it online for free. Once again, there’s a convenience issue in it for me. Having said that, I’m pretty chuffed at the idea of a tablet like Apple’s rumoured iSlate (or whatever it’s called). If I can migrate my newspaper and (various) magazine subscriptions to one device that acts like a paper/mag, I’ll gladly continue to pay for the subscriptions as well.

  10. I think a lot of companies are looking to this as a basis for if this is going to work. Your taking a well known brand, and placing it behind a pay wall. The wall street journal is doing this and from what I’ve heard with some success. If I were an advertiser I would be more interested in this type of model as I know my dollars are going to people who want to be looking at the content.
    If they applied some kind of adwords analytics to the content so the advertisements were targeted as well I think they may have a nice looking business model going for them.

  11. Great topic….I think the NY times has no choice in the matter either they do something drastic or cease to exist in the future. I would bet my life that its going to work for them and will work for others, it will be smaller but it will work!
    In a sense they are starting from ground zero again but the good thing is they have a recognizable brand for which they can leverage, they just need to be creative about it. There are endless possibilities when it comes to content and repackaging one of which will be the ‘itablet’. No use trying to stick it on your own when there is a large crowd already!

  12. Mitch,
    I agree that it’s the right move for the NYT. Another reason why I think it might work is that the NYT’s generates a lot of content that just isn’t available elsewhere. As a result, they’re offering a non-commodity product. From a high-level business perspective, what does the NYT have to lose given the print advertising business is eroding. They have to try something different to see it works. Who knows maybe others will follow in the NYT’s footsteps and, in the process, change the economic dynamics.

  13. I would not pay for the New York Times. They do not offer anything that is unique. UNIQUE and INTERESTING is the big ticket here. Although they may report differently on a story, they report the same stories as all other papers. Why would I pay for access to a story that is offered by over 10,000 other news papers free online?

  14. I agree with Adam to some extent but I have clients who pay me for writing for them. It depends on the clients about what type of content they want. Some want unique content and they are ready to pay good amount for that and some don’t want to pay much…..Anyway excellent topic….Superb

  15. I had a thought….what if the NY times didn’t print anything on paper for a month, rather, have a sign in each paper box that read, ‘NY times, free,‘. This would hopefully get more people to go online to their site and generate some buzz because this has never been tried. Really don’t mean to hijack your blog here mitch, but what do you think would happen?

  16. Not sure if I’d pay for NYT. Maybe if I had a better way to read it (tablet?). Glad they are moving this way though because it will test the waters and we’ll all benefit from finding out.

  17. NO WAY!!! Nobody is going to pay for this! Model cannot work. Who is going to pay for this and why?
    By the way, I love the subscription based model, especially when you get something of value. I already pay for several online services on a monthly basis, because I get value. NY Times would bring me zero value and that’s what I would pay….ZERO!!
    Now that being said, I think we will ALL PAY for this at some point, just not sure what the model will look like. I think it will be some kind of subscription based service, but will include hundreds of newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other stuff. Maybe there will be 2-3 conglomerates that will charge a monthly fee for a wide host of informational services or something like that? And then you will just have to choose one, sort of like a cable company, because without it you will have limited access to free information. What do you think?

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