NYT, While Quality, Isn't Exclusive or Niche

Here's the NY Times' explanation for getting rid of the TimesSelect wall (with my thoughts, in a sec.), emailed to print subscribers:

"Since we launched TimesSelect, the Web has evolved into an increasingly open environment. Readers find more news in a greater number of places and interact with it in more meaningful ways. This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion - as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it."

This means, obviously, that ad dollars seem a better revenue stream over time than subscription. TimesSelect was, after all, a commercial, not editorial initiative. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger confirmed to me about a year ago that the opinion pieces had gone behind the wall because they couldn't attract enough quality advertising on their own -- unlike, say, the business or tech sections. (What top marketer wants its ad next to commentary that could alienate a good part of its consumer base?)

It probably also means the Times is buying into the idea of distributed content, that the best way to get exponential growth in audience is to let content out. Subscription growth is very limited. Not so ad growth in digital media. And one of the best ways to get that growth today is through not only inbound links from blogs, but also outbound content posting through widgets and Flash video and so on.. Don't be surprised if we eventually start to see some ad-supported Times widgets and the like, letting its journalism appear, branded, in other venues.

The Times' choice to get rid of subscription for its archives seems to show they believe the economics of the long tail. No individual piece gets tons of traffic, but over time, in aggregate, it's a business, even if ad-supported. "Our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com, told the newspaper. Maybe the Times will move to the model others suggested earlier this week at Convergence 2.0 of providing everything anyone would want to know about whatever topic the Times has covered. Of course, no matter how much that is, Google will have more available just a click away.

The move also means folks who've paid a pretty penny for Times archives, such as Factiva and Lexis-Nexis, are increasingly having to move their model to added value for commodified news products. Can they sell their subscribers on the idea that there's more search, more relational databases, more tools and tricks and so on? That's the sell, essentially, of the financial information firm Edgar, its chief told me, because the info is by and large available for free from the SEC.

It also, of course, comes in the context of The Wall Street Journal's impending decision of whether to go completely free online – something new owner to-be Rupert Murdoch is hinting will happen. (It may mean a short-term loss, but over time a bigger gain if, as expected, the ad market continues ballooning.) It's also intriguing that Rupe said he'd use the WSJ on his new Fox business channel primarily for mainstream, not business, news like international and political. While the Journal's unique users, according recent rating service figures, are much lower than the Times, that may not matter because 1. It's achieved those numbers with much of its site walled off and 2. advertisers and others believe the Journal's audience is higher income than the Times', whose forte is regular old news – albeit of some of the highest journalistic quality anywhere -- not the burgeoning and high-revenue niche of business news.

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