When Free Goes to Paid
Kevin Salwen on Culture
There's something about getting something for free that the spirit -- let alone the pocketbook -- learns to take for granted. Then getting people to make the transition is brutally hard.
The New York Times is learning that lesson with the backlash against its Times Select product. Opinion columns and other content that until last week were free and easy online now carry the pricetag of $49.95 for a year.
Fifty bucks a year for Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd might not have been something we'd have flinched at before; after all, The Wall Street Journal has charged money from the outset for its wsj.com, as has Consumer Reports' online version. But the Times started out as free for everything but archives -- and now is forcing loyalists to use that credit card for the very same items those readers had gotten free.
Now the talk is that conservatives are happy about the move, since so few people apparently are signing up and the newspaper's liberal columnists are getting fewer reads. How will that play on West 43rd Street?
So, it's only a matter of time before the game is over and the Times backs off the Select gambit. But what does that mean for digital journalism, in an industry where the revenue model has yet to be worked out?