NY Times puts their best known writers behind the gate

TimesSelect, a new package being launched by nytimes.com in September, will restrict access to some of the best known columnists to only those with a subscription key. For either $49.95/year or free with a home-delivery subscription to the print newspaper, readers will get an account to TimesSelect which will give them unfettered access to the likes of Krugman, Friedman, and Dowd.

It’ll be interesting to see if keeping these writers behind the subscription wall will lead to a drop off of references to their material on blogs and, as some claim, a drop off in their ability to set the agenda for the day.

Perhaps. In an interview on paidcontent.org, Martin Niesenholtz says their looking to also launch an affiliate network of sorts to drive people to nytimes.com and hopefully sign up for a subscription of their own.

We also hope to roll out an affiliate program so the long tail can create a revenue stream for itself. If you’re a blogger who uses a lot of Times Op-Ed content in your blog you can continue to (by subscribing to TimesSelect)… and, through an affiliate network, extend that to their base and they can make money on the backend off that. We think the blogosphere needs more revenue streams.”

It’ll be a delicate balance but if they do it right, they might be able to recreate that economic model that works so well for them in print. One reason to get a paper such as the New York Times is to get their editorial perspective on the events of the day and share them as a point of reference If you’re a blogger that enjoys amplifying these perspectives to your readers and drive your readers to also sign up for the online edition or home-delivery, then you should be able to subsidize your own subscription.

It remains to be seen if the demographics of their readership is still right for this balance to play out online. Is a Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd enough of a draw or has the curve shifted to the point where people are already drawn away towards some of the newer writers of the day that are not going to be drawing a paycheck from an established brand.

This September the wall will go up and we’ll see if the Times’ magnetic pull can draw others inside and make it a sustainable business for the Times and its affiliates.

Opinion pieces have their most value immediately after they’re published (when the piece is fresh and original) for about a day or two and then once again, several months later, when they serve as a a useful reference point for historical perspective. These same pieces have their least value in the in the time between, say after they’re a few days old until 3 months out.

Restricting access during the period when these pieces are the most valuable will drive subscriptions to TimesSelect. It makes less sense to keep these pieces under lock and key throughout the time when people are mildly curious to see what all the fuss is about and have the time to sample a frequently referenced article without having to commit to an annual subscription. I would prefer to see the program re-jigged so that TimesSelect members get first dibs on grokking the perspective of the day but after 48 hours the doors are open for any and all up until the 3 month mark when they drop back to a view which restricts non-subscribers to only the first few paragraphs.

This new system would allow nytimes.com to extract maximum value from the work of their best authors (in order to keep their far-flung bureaus open for business) while also providing grist for the bloggers and general public to amplify and discuss stories in the public realm for a good three months. Open access to popular pieces for a three month period would help move low cost advertising inventory and allow for the fence-sitters to properly experience the quality of the Times’ news stream should they later decide they want to get access to this stuff prior the 48 hour embargo for non-subscribers.

Call it Kennedy’s Rolling Window of news & perspective. The cheap seats only let you see what’s directly in front of the window while subscribers get to see not only what’s coming down the pike but also dig back and review what’s gone by. Each time you see a story fly by that you wish you could have read sooner or wanted to read later, you’ll be fingering your credit card and thinking about the value of that $49.95 subscription.

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