Last Wednesday, The NY Times site ended its two-year experiment with paid content, TimesSelect. Under Times Select, subscribers paid 50 bucks a year to read popular columnists like Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman, and to access archival content. While The Times may be a bit late to acknowledge the full effect of search engines, blogs and social media on their business model, they’re happy to ask their readers to help them catch up.
The day before the change, the paper’s Media and Advertising section ran a brief article explaining the business case for the shift.
The Times said the project [TimesSelect] had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.
“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.
What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
As a online Times reader who never went Select, I’m happy to have access to the additional content. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but smile as I read this section of The Times' A Letter to Readers About TimesSelect. Emphasis on last nine words is mine.
Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.
Page views, AdSense and even the "long-term vitality of journalism aside" it sounds like this is really recognition that links are true currency of the web.