Time, the New York Times and others with their back against the economic wall are now reconsidering that whole free thing.
Ann Moore, the CEO of Time Inc, told a British newspaper:
“Who started this rumour that all information should be free and why didn't we challenge this when it first came out? I say this in college classrooms and they start to throw their shoes at me.”
And so on…
My take: I actually don’t think it matters what Time or Newsweek does on the web: they both seem to be trending towards insignificance:
But some of the other Time Inc properties, such as People.com, are doing much better online. And the NYT is doing great. Should they charge?
I think they should—but not for everything and not for everyone. The old WSJ model got the Freemium model about right, I thought. For such premier titles, which can credibly claim to be papers of record and thought leaders, there is clearly a class of readers who will pay what it costs to get that content.
But what WSJ.com used to do was to offer a backdoor to free content for another class of consumer: the social media maven. Paying subscribers could make content free to others by clicking on an icon that created a URL for a free version of the story that they could use for blogging or to submit to sites such as Digg or Yahoo Buzz.
The deal was essentially this: these often influential word-of-mouth generators could trade reputational and attention credits for free content. The content would be part of the online conversation, not walled off behind a paywall, and presumably some fraction of those who followed the links to free content would recognize the value in the premium content around it and subscribe. A very nice Freemium model, in other words.
Sadly, the WSJ doesn’t seem to do that anymore. The social media links it creates just go to short excerpts of the stories, and you have to subscribe for the whole thing. I suspect that this has had the effect of discouraging people from using those links, since it’s going to result in disappointment for most of the people who follow them. I certainly don’t see the WSJ mentioned much on Digg or Reddit, and that may be why.
But as the NYT considers a Freemium strategy, I’d encourage it to revisit the model that the WSJ abandoned. The old Times Select paywall kept its columnists out of the public debate, which annoyed them and diminished the Times’ influence. A more social media-friendly alternative would avoid that dead end, while reintroducing a direct revenue stream. Free may be the best price, but it needn’t be the only one.