One of the traditional charms of the New York Times is an untethered audacity that sometimes suggests it lives in a universe very different from the one it reports on. So it was perversely reassuring that the Times has responded to current economic conditions with a double-digit increase in subscription rates -- 10.5% to be exact.
This came a few weeks after we learned that falling prices generally have led to a situation where there will probably be no Social Security cost-of-living increase next year (and the Congressional Budget Office says this freeze will likely continue until 2013).
The Times goes its own way. And, indeed, if their plan succeeds it may well send ripples through the economy and lead to other price increases that will force an increase in Social Security benefits. But don't bet on it.
We all understand these are tough times for the newspaper industry and that we readers have an obligation to help out. But where will this spiral dynamic end?
The big price increase will probably lead to a drop in subscriptions (from people like me) and, perhaps a further drop in advertising revenue as the audience declines. So the remaining readers will be asked to pony up a bit more.
The Times has always been a newspaper for the elite, but in today's America there's probably an absolute limit on the number of readers willing to pay a thousand dollars annually for something that is, ultimately, despite the bells and whistles offered on the website, just a newspaper.
At the rate we're going, the Times subscription rates will cross into the magic four-digit range before Obama exits the White House.
The stresses of the moment force a lot of us regular newspaper readers to ask how much the paper is worth to us. The Times has taken an audacious gamble by upping the ante. Part of me really hopes they succeed, but the prudent gambler within suggests it would be wiser to bet against them.