By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Paying for the news

“Recovering Journalist” Mark Potts has a great post on New York Times executives’ decision to get rid of their pay service, TimesSelect.

I’ll confess that my glee over the demise of TimesSelect earlier this week was a bit knee-jerk. For consumers, there’s nothing not to like about free. As a blogger, I like being able to link to all Times content. And since the Times Web site is by far the largest news newspaper site, it may be uniquely suited to the advertiser-only model.

But the Times’ move still doesn’t address the question of how to pay for journalism, especially at news organizations that lack the Times’ cachet. (That is, everybody else.) Even Times executives may not have thought this through completely. Potts writes:

[C]ommitting good journalism is expensive, and so far, there’s no indication that advertising will pay the entire way, especially for premium content from the likes of organizations like the Times. By dropping TimesSelect, the Times is walking away from more than $10 million in annual revenue, and it remains to be seen how quickly the resulting traffic bump — and attendant advertising — can make that up. A blanket statement that “content is now and forever free,” as Jeff Jarvis put it in his triumphant posting is just misguided — and belied by, and, not to mention countless high-end subscription-based information and analysis services that serve professional markets. Oh, and print media are still successfully enjoying a revenue stream from subscriptions, you may have noticed.

Typical news junkies may regularly visit five, 10 or more sites. Given that, I think the subscription model remains impractical. (And thus I still don’t lament the passing of TimesSelect.) But microtransactions of some sort — that is, an account from which some small amount of money, perhaps on the order of less than a penny, would be deducted for every article you read — loom on the horizon as a possible solution of how to pay for the news.

Bill Densmore, the founder of one such system known as Clickshare, has further thoughts here.

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  1. Bobbye

    Dan, You’re wrong when you say that The Times is “by far the largest news site.” And the E&P story you link to says no such thing.The Times may be the largest newspaper Web site, but it is dwarfed by the online-only news sites.Unique visitors per month at The New York Times: 13.1 million.Unique visitors per month at 86.2 million.That’s why the recent announcement by The Times of its politics partnership with mentioned what MSNBC is bringing to the party: video and an audience.A much larger audience than newspapers have. Not as influential an audience, surely, as you get with The Times, but much larger.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Bobbye: Good catch.

  3. Neil

    I went to UMass with Bill Densmore. Ain’t that somethin. He worked at the Collegian and lived in the same dorm as me. He was obviously a talented kid. Lost a bit of hair and turned into an adult–30 years will do that.This summer diving in Rockport I noticed another diver with an unusual last name printed on his gear. I said I knew a girl at UMass 30+ years ago from my dorm who had that name. Turns out it was his sister. Motivation to read Bill’s article.

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