Michael Crowley gets excited:
Given that some people spend $5 per day on coffee, paying that much per month for online access the best newspaper in the world strikes me as an absolute no-brainer. I myself would pay twice as much. I hope the idea catches on, and I hope this marks a shift from the days of newspapers panicking to the start of successful new business models.
One way the NYT can make online subscriptions far more appealing is by doing a better job of promoting the terrific new TimesReader 2.0, a simple but slick Adobe-based application that you install onto your computer in like two minutes. I’ve been meaning to plug this for a while, because it was only after I tried the incredibly user-friendly and print-like TimesReader that I could imagine surviving without the Times on paper.
A few points. First, I’m not sure how much “catching on” this idea could possibly do. A big part of the selling point of The New York is that it’s “the best newspaper in the world.” I can see why you would pay money to read the best newspaper in the world. But why would you pay money to read the sixth-best newspaper in the world?
The other is simply that among the New York Times’ fans, a group in which I would include myself, I think there’s a tendency to overstate the extent to which the NYT is indispensable. Crowley says that it’s only thanks to the deployment of the new NYT reader software that he can begin to imagine life without a print Times. In the real world, though, the overwhelming majority of people are living life without a print Times and have been for years: “The New York Times had an average of 647,695 weekday home delivery subscribers as of the 26 weeks ended March 29, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data.” Now I definitely would pay $5 a month to read the NYT online. And I’m the kind of person who, did the internet not exist, would subscribe to the print NYT. But how many Yglesias’ and Crowleys are there in the world? The NYT’s online audience is now vastly larger than its print audience. How much of that is because the online version is free?
Note that BBC News runs the world’s second-best international news website and they don’t charge anything and show no sign of ever needing to charge. That’s not the kind of firm you want to compete against.