The New York Post is reporting that rival The New York Times is about to set its TimesSelect content free. TimesSelect has kept key parts of nytimes.com behind a subscription firewall since 2005. The pay content includes Times op-ed columnists, including the high-profile Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd. The Times hasn’t confirmed the move.
TimesSelect also includes additional multimedia content, a way to bookmark articles you like, personalized email alerts, early access to the Sunday Times and up to 100 articles a month from the Times archive. I would expect that all but the archive access would be made free.
I’ve always thought that locking the most link-worthy content behind a pay wall was a bad idea. If the Times hadn’t locked up its content and had created tools to let users interact with each other, it might have captured much of the traffic that is now going to political blogs. Ironically, at the same time that the Times is keeping people from linking to their op-ed content, they are buying AdWords to drive traffic.
It’s never easy for a company to turn away from an existing revenue stream, but it’s the right thing to do. Accountants can always see the short-term impact of turning off a revenue stream. Pricing varies from $7.95 a month to $49.95 a year. (TimesSelect is free for subscribers to the print edition.) Depending on the mix of annual and monthly subscriptions and retention rate, that’s between $11 million and $21 million in revenue.
It’s much harder to calculate the value of lost traffic and link love. As I wrote in April, links from other sites are extremely important traffic drivers for newspapers. By freeing its content, the Times can capture more of that.