I do not have a philosophical objection to pay models. Long before I started FiveThirtyEight.com, which was advertising-supported, I wrote for (and helped to manage) Baseball Prospectus, which was an early adopter of a pay model in 2003. Both businesses worked well enough in their own way. At the same time, given that FiveThirtyEight is my current business and that my readers are used to reading as much of its content as they want, I would not have moved it to The New York Times had it been planning on a more rigid “paywall” structure, like that employed by The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal.
There are also some armchair-quarterback critiques I have about the details of The Times’s model; you’re welcome to ask me about them if you catch me out drinking a coffee or beer somewhere.
I’m less sympathetic to the notion, however, which I’ve heard in some quarters, that there are a lot of good substitutes for The New York Times. Certainly there are some good substitutes: depending on the type of coverage you’re looking for, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal or CNN or ESPN.com. Of course, some of these substitutes already charge for digital access, are also having trouble balancing their budgets, or both.
But, as I’ll aim to demonstrate below, there aren’t a lot of substitutes. A very small number of news outlets account for a very large share of the English-language reporting that is of national or international interest. And with very few exceptions, they are all what we might think of as “traditional” news organizations.
The data he digs up, though far from scientifically valid, is telling. Check it out.
Will this new pay model for the New York Times work? Define “work.” Will it make them money hand over fist, so much so that all of their worries now fade away? No. But I also believe it won’t cost them a significant amount of traffic, as many pay-wall naysayers will claim.
Think about it: Who are they most likely to lose? Casual, occasional readers. But guess what — those casual occasional readers are the types who read nytimes.com when they come across a link to a story in an e-mail from a friend, on Twitter, in a link on a favorite blog, and so on. And nytimes.com articles arrived at through those methods are exempt from the metered pay model’s 20-free-articles-per-month limit.
Good for the New York Times. You’re worth it, baby.