Tim Noah has an interesting suggestion about the Times' plan to charge $50 for online access to its columnists: What happens when certain columnists drive much more traffic than others?
Let us say, for example, that Maureen Dowd is much more widely read than John Tierney. Not a big deal when everything on the Times site is free; matters more when you're charging readers for content. Will columnists' salaries now rise or fall in proportion to how many paying readers click on their columns? And will columnists start changing their subject matter in order to attract those lucrative hits? (More Michael Jackson, less foreign affairs.)
I think there's another likely consequence: More women columnists.
Here's why. The overwhelming number of subscribers will be male. It is, after all, a male-dominated page. And so, in order to attract women subscribers, the Times will do something it has so far been reluctant to do: hire female columnists. (Now, there's only Dowd.)
As the book publishing world will tell you, women are much bigger readers than men. So the economic logic of this move should sooner or later compel the Times to have more female columnists than male ones...which would mean a profound transformation, in composition and subject matter, of the Times op-ed page. This is going to be interesting.