Times Select: All the News That's Fit to Pay For

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screen grab [3 Oct 05, New York Times]

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times launched Times Select — pitched as “exclusive online access” to op-ed columnists, the full archives, and various special features. If you’re a print subscriber, you can log in to Times Select for free (if you’re persistent enough to figure out how). But if you’ve adapted to reading the Times online without paying a penny, you now have to fork over $49.95 per year or else say goodbye to Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, et al.

Times Select has proven to be a kind of catnip for media bloggers. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s post here lays out and links to lots of the online conversation. And one enterprising fellow has decided to circumvent the Times Select firewall by posting the op-ed columns for free on his blog Never Pay Retail.

We decided this could make an interesting show when, in a story meeting, we all suddenly felt we needed to ask: Why did they decide to do this? Why did they put the op-ed columns behind the firewall rather than the news columns (especially as there’s plenty of alternative free opinion out there in the blogosphere)? Were the columnists involved in the decision? Are they happy about it — does it increase or decrease their relevancy? How does it fit in to all of the other online revenue models in medialand? (Most of the online Wall Street Journal, for example, is available only to subscribers; but the Guardian is completely free online.) Which one of these models is smartest and why?

We’d like to know what questions you have and what you make of this experiment.

Jay Rosen

Professor of journalism at NYU. Blogs about journalism and online media at Pressthink.

Staci Kramer

Executive Editor of PaidContent.

Rich Meislin

Associate Managing Editor for Internet publishing, the New York Times.

Ben Hammersley

Journalist; oversees the Guardian’s blogs.

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  • Potter

    We spend $552 a year to get the physical paper in our mailbox and it’s a lovely walk down to get it each morning even in the snow. But I also feel guilty about all that paper. My husband has learned how to read the paper online,so now it’s only me. Then Timeselect happened and this made me think. This would be a great time to cut delivery, save money and paper. We would pay $50 and we could both use the same username. As subscribers to the print edition, by the way, only one person in a household can register for free,

    Right now we are both registered for free Timeselect as one user, still getting the paper and we are deciding whether to stop getting the physical paper and pay our $50 and save $500. Is this what the NYTimes had in mind?

    The good thing about Timeselect is free access to archives beyond the only 7 days we had before. If I cut out the paper, I would really need this feature to access older articles I missed, As for the columnists, It’s true if they write anything truly great we can usually find it elsewhere. Op Ed contributors are still free.

    I really do not mind paying something for the NYTimes though.

  • Pete

    I’m a grad student in the physical sciences (therefore the NYT is merely a distraction and is unnecessary for my research). I’ve been reading the NYT online every day for the past few years and before the online version read the paper copy shared in my lab. It took a few years, but gradually I got hooked on the opinion pieces. Nevertheless, I have decided not to subscribe to Times Select because I get access to the NYT archive via my university’s subscription (so no benefit there) and the $50 they charge is not insignificant in my budget (yes, I could afford it, but I’d rather pay for The Economist, for instance.)

    But I understand the concept. In fact there was an article recently in the paper about problems the newspaper industry is facing with free online access — they must make money somehow without driving their readership to alternate free sites. It makes sense to charge for proprietary content, such as the editorials, and as a bonus for them, if I continue to visit the site for the free articles, I’ll continually be tempted to subscribe to Times Select. New users will never know it was once free. So it was probably a smart business move by the NYT, but until I graduate and earn a real salary, I’ll just have to endure opinion-piece withdrawal.

  • The odd thing is, of course, the Wall Street Journal gives its opinions for free and charges for the news while the NYT gives the news for free and charges for its opinions.

    By the way, I wonder if anyone’s learned anything from the experience at the Los Angeles Times. They tried to firewall the Calendar Live section of the paper (arts and entertainment: which would be a premier product given Los Angeles’s role in movies and TV) but failed miserably. I think the NYT will go the same way. Is Krugman really that popular? And how will the NYT clamp down on not including their work in syndicated papers’ web sites?

  • Potter

    For me it’s been a game to see what articles ( from any source )that I would have to suscribe to get that I can find (eventually) posted somewhere. I have found if you keep looking, sooner or later you can find almost anything for free. However, since I want the New York Times to stay in business (as long as it maintains quality reporting) I should worry about how it is surviving financially and should be willing to pay for that. On the other hand, it’s great to be able to get other papers for free that I would not pay for if I had to subscribe like the Washington Post and the LA Times. So what am I saying? I love all the access. I think we all need it. But t if we had to pay for it all we would not or could not and we would be the poorer for this loss of access. It would change the nature of the internet as we enjoy it today. Already we are losing a little here and a little there because of “firewalls” etc.

    Even the Wall Street Journal does not post ( or did not when I last checked) today’s opinion pieces. You have to wait a day or more.

    I recently went out and bought a copy of Atlantic Magazine for an article I wanted to read in the September issue that I just could not find anywhere and AtMo wanted $40 for a subscription ( they would not let me buy the article. Lo and behold I just checked a couple of days ago and somebody posted it on some obscure site that I found after going through several pages of Google.

    So when the paper versions stop with smaller computers and wireless connections ( I assume that is what will happen) what will happen? I would not mind paying a small fee for a selection of papers (that I choose) if they could band together in subscription service.

  • Marc Fraser

    When NYT decided to restrict access to the editorails and op-eds, I decided to cease reading the online version of the paper. I have been enjoying it for several years, reading the paper during my lunchtime at work. I submitted an e-mail to the paper explaining my reasons and letting them know that as of August 29 I would stop using their website to get my news. I reminded them that their colleagues on the Left Coast (the LA Times) had tried something similar recently and has just returned to a free service. I expressed my hope that NYT would come to their senses and revert to free access in the near future. The next day I received a reply trying to justify their decision and expressing their hope that I would change my mind.

    I won’t. (Unless, of course, they change THEIRS)

    So, I will continue to read online versions of the LA Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and several others that, at least until now, are freely accessed on the Web.

    As for other sources for these editorials (see Hank’s comments), one example is the International Herald Tribune, which carries the NYT editorials, but also behind the firewall. It’s frustrating at the very least, and I hope it costs them a not-insignificant portion of their readership.

  • Andy

    Serendipity at Editor & Publisher:

    Maureen Dowd boycotting the new pay-for-play TimesSelect plan at The New York Times?

    Despite promises from the newspaper that its high-profile columnists–now hidden behind a pay wall on the Web–would provide bonus content and services at the site, Dowd so far has offered nothing original, beyond her twice-weekly print column.

    The Web Effect: New Tally Reveals True Newspaper Reach

    The Newspaper Audience Database (NADbase) unveiled this week shows the industry is getting serious about pushing readership as a way to complement paid circulation. The Newspaper Association of America, which is spearheading this twice-yearly release, calculates a newspaper’s total reach by combining print and unduplicated online readers.

  • staci kramer

    Thought I’d try to clear up a misconception in one of the comments above. Editorials are not included in TimesSelect, only staff Op-Ed columnists and some columnists from other sections. Registered users can still access editorials without a fee and anyone can read an RSS-generated link without even registering.

  • Yawn. Two days off for the new year and this is the topic when I return? As a home subscriber, paying $276/year, I’m happy that the times is finally respecting me as a customer and giving me a little extra something. Am I’m delighted that they’re making an introductory subscription for anyone who wants it paperless.

    If they have to tweak the pricing, so be it. I keep hearing that “opinions can be found anywhere, so why charge?” But if you were able to read John Tierney’s latest column, he’s not just offering an opinion, he actually tracks down party strategists (and naming some, like good ol’ Grover Norquist) and reports on their reactions. I call that value-add.

    Yes, there are faults of the times– Jack Shafer at Slate found the Yalies-want-kids-before-career to be anecdotal and derivative of a 25-year old article; Bob Cox on his blog griped that the Times (like other media institutions), in the wake of Katrina, had saluted the government for cutting the red tape one week and then wondering why single-bid contracts were awarded the next. That’s more interesting to cover.

    Granted, there’s one aspect that I did catch through the endless analysis of this on PressThink– what is the next generation reading? Are they simply gravitating to what’s free? That would be too bad.

  • Ditto to what Chris just said: access to the archives is great, too.

    “TimesFile” — the Times has licensed Furl (a bookmark-sharing service like Del.icio.us). That should be an interesting experiment, though I like using del.icio.us.

  • Chris said “Have we met the targets?” The service is four weeks old!

    Jay– thank you for wishing the Times luck that they develop new sources of revenue.

  • What is Jay talking about now? The Times would never hire someone from Kansas? And because the WaPo does, that makes them #1?

  • Andy

    From Tom Scocca, NY Observer:

    New York Times pundit standings, Sept. 27–Oct. 3, 2005

    1. (tie) Maureen Dowd, score 3.0 [rank last week: 2nd] Frank Rich, 3.0 [1st]

    3. Paul Krugman, 1.0 [tie—5th]

    4. (tie) David Brooks, 0.0 [tie—5th]

    Thomas L. Friedman, 0.0 [4th]

    Bob Herbert, 0.0 [3rd]

    Nicholas D. Kristof, 0.0 [tie—5th]

    John Tierney, 0.0 [tie—5th]

    Pay doesn’t pay! TimesSelect continued to suppress the pundit scores this week, as only three columnists managed to scrabble their way into the even the bottom reaches of the Most E-Mailed list. That left the five others scoreless, as one-off contributors Nora Ephron, Brian Greene, John L. Allen Jr. and Rick Moranis rode their freebie columns into the top 25.

  • the caller says that the web is “about openness and access.” Nope. Read Lessig’s CODE. The web is about what it’s designers make it.

    But I do have greater access now to Frank Rich et al. as a subscriber.

  • shpilk

    “The web is about what it’s designers make it.”

    Exactly correct, and the VALUE of the NYT is for the market to decide.

    If it’s worth it, they will pay – if it’s not, they won’t.

    One fascinating feature I like is the ability to get archived materials, and I am willing to pay a reasonable price for it.

  • btw, thank you Ben Hammersly (and now Jay) for amplifying the point I made it here– that by virtue of having access, the Times columnists demonstrate a value-add. And to agree with Jay, Maureen Dowd doesn’t always demonstrate the access that she could provide. So she might have to work harder.

  • Madeline

    I am glad some of the above can afford to chose between home delivery and Times Select. I am one of the freeloaders the NYTimes has eliminated. My husband and I are college students living on my retired Navy fixed income. Since the day after my birthday in 2001, I have been logging onto NYTimes.com each morning before I do or go anywhere. Since then, I have come to rely on Dowd, Krugman, et all, because they seem to have Spocked my brain on all issues currant. Or, to make me think harder on what is going on as a whole. Last Sunday, I ment to go to the local store that does carry the Times here in Washington state, but my homework made me forget that today is the day Frank Rich is published. I had a tremendous affinity with that paper. Until.. Well, I see Times Select as capitalism in progress. The Republicans can stop bashing the NYTimes now, eh?

  • xanphi3

    My family owns a little country store. In 1976 when I was a kid I remember a salesman , I think it was for Pepsi, came in with a revolutionary new product… water in a can! When he showed my dad he laughed, hysterically. I recall him saying things like “who in their right mind is gonna buy water?â€? and “the only water that would sell is distilled water for use in irons or car batteries and the likeâ€?. Thirty years later Coke and Pepsi sell more water than any other product. Internationally, water has become a commodity much like oil. I can foresee the same thing happening to news and other web content we now enjoy for free.

    Michael

  • Madeline– part of my media budget is that I pay $9/month for basic cable, instead of $65 for too many channels I can’t watch.

    Though I would have a suggestion that might help you– what if the Times could make Rich (and the other columns) available three days later? That would seem to help a bit.

    Just to react to something Chris just said, there can’t be an equal conversation between the Times and its readers. The math doesn’t work as it does for a small community paper.

  • Henry Woodbury

    A surprise and a disappointment for me was losing access to the New York Times sports columnists. There are dozens of equivalent or better bloggers for every one of the political columnists. A guy like Brad DeLong is just as sharp as Paul Krugman without the bluster or silly deadline-induced errors.

    But the sportswriters do not have an equivalent. There are no bloggers who have day to day access to the Yankees clubhouse or Giants lockerroom.

    Since I only read columns that look interesting, I’m not about to pay to get them “just in case”. And, as I said, the editorial page is simply not superior to the free opionions elsewhere.

  • A clarification regarding newspapers, other than the NYT, that carry the various NYT Op-Ed columnists now accessible only via TimesSelect: The other papers are not allowed to post the columns on-line.

    For myself, I subscribe to my local paper, which carries Friedman, Krugman, & Dowd. However, I travel extensively for my work & read my local paper on-line while traveling. The new NYT policy means that if I am to read the NYT Op-Ed columnists, I will have to pay twice for the privilege.

    I’m not pleased by this sort of extortion.

  • willnotpaynyt

    JonGarfunkel has it exactly backwards when he says that the web is not about openness and quotes a Harvard Prof ( Lessig ) to press his point! – here is the core of the issue- the only reason 300 million people around the globe are going to know Tierney, Friedman and Dowd is going to be through “opensourcing”( pun intended!) – NYT will make money for 5 years but they will price themselves out because of non appearance on an open forum on the WORLD WIDE WEB- so only Garfunkel and his ilk will be paying for reading that stuff while the young kids in South Asia and East Asia will have moved on to other sources of info and analysis – anybody pay for getting the Saturday Evening Post here? Exposure is everything, temporary pay days are nothing – use your imagination!

  • In the wrap-up, Chris wrote: “the Times has missed the boat into the information democracy of the Internet, and doesn’t even know it yet.”

    How ludicrious. The Times was one of the first papers on the web; it possibly remained #1 for years; and despite what Jay says, the jury’s still out as to whether they’ve been knocked off their perch.

    Meanwhile, I had a look at Tom Friedman’s “World Affairs” page. He’s fostering conversation there by directly answering reader’s questions. Is this not bloggy enough for the blog evangelists?

  • willnotpaynyt

    The tragedy is that the NYT is swimming against the tide in terms of the basic philosophy of the WWW – it is very simple really – you have to show up for the game and start batting without asking for any money down – the basic info about the worlf is now available in a flash – analysis is everywhere too – the NYT will NOT and DOES not have an inside track advantage – it’s called a level playing field – to expect to be paid for the quality of analysis reveals how clueless the NYT really is – what creates the quality is open access – the open buzz on the net changes the product itself- and if a product becomes veiled behind a wall- guess what? you are only reaching people in the world who can or will cough up 50 bucks – who thinks that the quality of people you reach has a relationship to an ability to pay! so there you have it – the NYT will only reach an increasingly bewildered and impotent elite totterring out of the club world of paid content and peering incomprehensively at the rapid fire diverse blogosphere where you are only as good as your last post

  • “You are only as good as your last post” — the blogosphere is so rapid fire, there’s no time for punctuation!

  • willnotpaynyt

    Garfunkel – are you a ‘plant’ from the NYT? All your posts seem to have one point – ra ra about the NYT ! If you are a ‘plant’ – you should do a better job of being more subtle about the sales pitch – if you are not – you are pathetic! I guess the fact that you quote Lessig from Harvard tells us what you are all about – an admirer of authority and received wisdom – therefore a misfit for the web – maybe you really need to start reading the Saturday Evening Post -paper edition.

  • willnotpaynyt

    Well- to the NYT ‘ exclusive’ columnists – I only have to say one thing ” Hasta la Vista baby!” stay behind your firewall – no great loss ! We will live without you somehow.

  • Potter

    This was a very good show…good guests. I wonder if the anti-NYT response is related to the old anti-New York and New Yorkers thing. Some people just hate New York and New Yorkers. We can analyze that in the race and class series. Having come from New York to Boston I got a lot of that when I arrived. I am tied to the New York Times since we had to read it in school for current events. And for examples of good writing it was the New Yorker Magazine. So these two publications are imprinted on me.

    The paper has over the years deserved it’s good reputation as far as I am concerned. Lately I have been disappointed in Judith Miller and the paper’s defense of her refusal to reveal information in the Plame case. I still read Friedman, though he is not quite as insightful or right. I love Frank Rich and Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman, and M. Dowd occasionally. Mainly though it’s the excellent reporting from Dexter Filkins, John Burns, Steven Erlanger, James Bennet to name a few. AlsoI love Edward Rothstein, Julie Salamon and R.W. Apple to name just a few more. I rely on the arts pages as well as the food and home sections, book reviews, excellent contributor articles to the editorial pages, the letters, and occasionally the magazine articles. In other words I gobble up a lot of it.

    So don’t include me in the “we will live without you somehow” crowd. One does wonder why the move inspires such animosity that people would cut themselves off from 97% of the paper that is still free and still excellent.

  • VT mom

    I was intrigued by the assertion from the Times’ representative that conversions from the free preview to the pay service was 95%. I wonder whether that’s related to my experience with the preview. I tried it out, realized I couldn’t bear to have The Powers That Be think I was actually prepared to pay money to read David Brooks (!), and tried to cancel. And tried again. And again. For two days, the link was broken. After repeated emails back and forth, they finally canceled me manually, apparently by wiping out the original order as though I had never signed up in the first place. I assume the result of this is an artificial boosting to the apparent conversion rate, all very innocent, I’m sure. Another result is that those same Powers were deprived of my pithy thoughts on the service. I find it very hard to believe I was the only one who had this problem.

  • Potter

    I just noticed that the “most emailed articles” box today does not contain one columnist whereas before the firewall there was always at least one if not more columnists amongst them. Does this mean that their readership has been diminished by this move?

  • Jay’s dig at Kansas– or rather, the dig at an elite New York person’s dig at Kansas– perked my attention when I was listening to this show 17 days ago (

    see comment. I finally took the time to transcribe it:

    “The Washington Post, for whatever reason– and it would take some investigation to find out exactly why– has been more flexible, more open, more willing to junk some of the old religion, more willing to experiment, and the indicator of this is when they hired this guy Adrian from the Lawrence, Kansas World newspaper which is a tiny, tiny outfit in the middle of Kansas because he was incredibly smart about the web. And the New York Times would basically never do that, because they think of themselves as part of the cultural center, and the cultural elite and Kansas doesn’t have anything to teach New York, in their point of view.”

    I finally had time to learn more about “this guy Adrian”– he is Chicagoan Adrian Holovaty, who upon close inspection is not just “incredibly smart about the web.” He’s been winning awards for interactive journalism for the last half-decade, since he was at the University of Missouri. He just won an award from the J-Lab for his innovative creation of the ChicagoCrime.org site, which he has done in his spare time.

    I would assume that any leading newspaper would look for the best candidates anywhere in the world. Rich Meislin is now slouch either. Granted, the NYT picked him up thirty years ago from Harvard, but that’s not his fault he wasn’t plucked like a sunflower from the blessed heartland.

    The Post, to their credit, created a job opening, and filled it with the most qualified person available for the job. I thought it generally an accepted truth that people in smaller media markets work pretty damned hard to move up, and have greater latitude in experimentation.

    I have been looking through the archives of Romanesko’s Memo’s, to learn about the origination of editors of the Times. It’s a long slog; maybe it would be simple if the Times provided this themselves. One thing jumped out at me, though– new ombudsmen Barney Calame, whose forty-year career at the WSJ was the key experience the Times was looking for, also has on resume that he begun his journalism career, like Holovaty, at the University of Missouri.

  • sullicj

    I initially “went without” reading the columnists when the Times first placed them behind the paywall. Then I realized that all NY Times articles, including the op-ed columns, are available “day one” through database links on the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners web site. Incidentally, I also noted links to Boston Herald and Wall Street Journal articles, both of which place some or all of their content behind the Wall.

    So if the columns can still be accessed for free, albeit less conveniently, it begs the question of exactly what “value” the Times is offering that would justify the loss of audience, and therefore influence, being inflicted on its columnists.

    Are Massachusetts libraries the exception to the rule in providing remote access to these databases, or are these institutions simply betting that readers will pay the subscription fees believing they have no other choice?

  • manning120

    I was distracted for several weeks and realized only yesterday that this topic was up. In perusing the comments, it’s interesting that no one seems to put much emphasis on the interactive nature of the NYT’s fora related to the commentary that now has to be paid for. The paper had a problem in that the contributors posted a lot more heat than light, and usually strayed far from the content of the NYT’s articles. It was very difficult to work your way through the flames to find worthwhile contributions. I also had the distinct feeling that my own essays, which clearly involved much more time and effort than 90% of the contributions, had very little impact. I thought this because even my best essays resulted in few, if any, responses, and soon got erased by the managers.

    To borrow from the ad makers: PC — $600; word processor — $400; Internet service — $50; having your ideas considered and commented upon by others — priceless. If the NYT had acted in response to this idea rather than making money, I would be for the change. But for now, I’m looking elsewhere, such has here, where my ideas actually get responses and are even noticed by Google (check it out).

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