What we won't learn from the New York Times' paywall

So the New York Times has announced it will begin charging for access to its website, using a metered model similar to the one I discussed recently. The reactions have been predictable. I want to focus on one small angle: What we won't learn.

We won't learn a thing this year, because they're not doing it until 2011.

This may place the Times in a position of being out of sync with the marketplace. The greatest force driving the whole "charge for content" discussion has been the recession's rollback in general advertising expenditures. By 2011 we should see a significant resurgence in ad revenues. That will increase the economic risk in the Times' experiment.

We won't learn how this applies to regional daily newspapers, because the New York Times isn't one.

Think about it: If the Times had anything to teach regional dailies on this subject, it would work both ways. Regional experiments could inform the Times' decisionmaking.

The New York Times owns 16 other daily newspapers that could be used as test cases. Would you bet the big farm first? Of course not. If you believed the learnings would be portable, you'd try it in a less risky market.

But the people at the New York Times know the Times is fundamentally in a different business than regional dailies. We should know that, too.

We won't learn anything about what the market will bear. A single experiment with a single price point by a single newspaper is just a stab in the dark.

We might, however, discover how many New York Times readers will migrate to the Guardian, where editor Alan Rusbridger has said "it would be crazy if we were to all jump behind a pay wall and imagine that would solve things."


Of course the highly compensated officers of NYT put a 12 month lead time against this idea. This signals that these leaders really don't actually believe in the Murdoch-led paywall strategy. To succeed, Murdoch needs OPEC-like buy in from NYT group and all other market leaders. But at least NYT shareholders can be persuaded to be quiet now that the company assures them that they will be positioned to capitalise on paid content if, against all odds, that old Rupert proves right in bullying market forces. Steve, American journalists always write about U.S. media companies as if, in 2010, these industrial-age monopolists are in any way innovators in media. Clearly, they are not. They are protectionists. What do you think about non-U.S. media group solutions? Today (the year 2010) top european publishers are forcing some users to pay now for mobile access to certain titles.