Profits are up for the New York Times, but, before you break out the champagne, please note: the prime mover of profits for NYT this past quarter was the sale of its TV stations. On the print side, it's more downturn anxiety: newspaper ad revenues are down 6.9%.
What's particularly intriguing where the Times is concerned, however, is the sudden uptick in whispers over the newspaper's online "TimesSelect" pay-to-play service, where folks pay either $49.95 or the price of a subscription to read content from a passel of columnists that the bloggers of the world are happy to tear apart for the low introductory cost of free. We first heard the rumor that the paper might be taking a long hard look at possibly scuttling the service from Mickey Kaus over at Slate, who called TimesSelect a "misconceived project" and Sulzberger's "folly" (but then, what else is new?). That same day, the New York Post reported that a "growing chorus of people within the paper are lobbying to shut down the two-year-old service," with one unnamed source saying, "It a hot potato...There's a lot of pushing to do away with it."
With so many people saying they don't really love the service, what keeps the Times hanging on? Well, as the Post's sophomoric illo suggests, losing Times Select would be a bit of a black eye for Sulzberger, who championed the project at its inception as a revenue generator that could fuel the growth of the Times' online presence. On a level of dollars and cents, is TimesSelect doing it's job?
Actually, maybe. As Ken Doctor at Content Bridges notes, "When Martin Nisenholtz launched it about two years ago, he told me that his goal was $10 million in new revenue." According to paidContent, TimesSelect currently has 741,000 subscribers, 30% of which pay the online only price of $49.95. That works out to be somewhere just north of $11million in gross revenues. There's no telling how much of that is available after cost to go back into NYT's website, but it's nevertheless tantalizingly close to proof of concept.
Still, Doctor reasons that if the Select content were made available to the public for free, then, in theory, the company could reap additional revenues, though Doctor's best efforts at spitballing only project an additional $1-2million a month.
All the same, it's hard to be surprised that there appears to be a good deal of institutional resistance at keeping the pay service going. What might appear to be good for the Times over one period of time may not ultimately be good for readers over a longer duration. As Staci Kramer, writing for paidContent, notes, "I'm sure some people are surprised it's lasted nearly two years and I know its existence drives some people absolutely batty." Speaking only for myself, I can be counted in the latter camp, and--not to be a homer--but I feel I'm getting comparable content and greater online innovation from The Washington Post on a daily basis, gratis. So, if you really love something, New York Times, set it free.
TIMES MAY PULL PLUG ON PAY SITE [New York Post]
Times Select's Fate & All Access: Throwing Stuff Against the Wall? [Content Bridges]
TimesSelect On the Bubble? Yes, No, Maybe [paidContent]
Jay Rosen PressThinks on TimesSelect [FishbowlNY]