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September 18, 2007

The Guards Have Changed Uniforms, Which Means I'm Free!!!

I'm apparently the only person on earth who hoped the TimesSelect scheme would work. One extremely negative aspect of the internet is the way it pushes media outlets to abandon subscriptions and move toward being completely advertiser-supported.

Meanwhile, there's almost no consciousness of this. In fact, there's a kind of anti-consciousness. Eric Garris of tells us "New York Times Figures Out the Web: It’s Free!" and Andrew Sullivan sneers "Welcome to the blogosphere, guys. It's free."

Uh, no. The internet isn't free. The writers, editors and web designers at the New York Times will continue to be paid for what they do. Everyone else will pay for it every time they buy a product advertised there. And we pay not just for the writing, editing, etc. in the way we would if the New York Times were supported 100% by subscriptions, but ALSO get to pay the enormous costs of creating and placing ads.

Moreover, we pay in another way: we give advertisers ultimate control of the information we get about the world. We will only be able to run things for ourselves, like adults, when we understand information costs money, and decide to pay for it directly. Instead of using the internet to do that, we're regressing—paying for it indirectly while handing over the reins to others and running around like toddlers shouting "I'm free!"

(I have much more sympathy here for than Sullivan. actually is using the internet in an innovative way, and forcing readers to recognize it costs money. Sullivan is the one who reminds me of a two year-old.)

Posted at September 18, 2007 01:01 PM | TrackBack

Excellent point. I don't know why this is hard for people to grasp. It really is a kind of popular childishness in the our psyche, I guess.

Posted by: atheist at September 18, 2007 01:52 PM

You'd think denizens of a capitalist country could comprehend, "You get what you pay for", wouldn'tcha?

Posted by: atheist at September 18, 2007 02:22 PM

so there's a lack of advertising on large market sites that offer subscription material.

Posted by: hapa at September 18, 2007 02:31 PM

The thing about the TimesSelect was that they asked you to pay for the wrong part of the paper. I would happily pay for the (high) cost of reporting and research, ya know investigative journalism. I never felt tempted to pay for the opinion writers- maybe theoretically pay for real analysis of the news but I never saw that on the Times opinion page.

Micheal O'Hare has some thoughts on this at the RBC:

Posted by: Dave at September 18, 2007 03:01 PM

childishness; putting one's money where one's mouth is

1)Graham Greene (the writer, not the actor) had one of his characters, a priest, say that years in the confessional had taught him that (a) people are much more unhappy than they publicly admit (b) there are no grown-ups

2)It was Lenny Bruce who said, "I'm a liberal, and I have the cancelled checks to prove it" - that was, of course, decades ago - these days I describe myself as "progressive" and, since I don't get my checks back any more, I collect the very nice letters some sites send out in response to donations (I got one from recently, and although it's not relevant to this calendar year's itemized deductions, I still cherish one signed by digby personally - before it was publicly revealed that it was digby herself

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at September 18, 2007 03:32 PM

I'm not fully convinced...won't the result of this be perhaps much more linking by blogs to columns by Paul Krugman.
I imagine there will be more linking to David Brooks as well, but not nearly as much in relative terms.

So, the readers will have control over the content, as well as the advertisers. Online advertisers will pay more to be with Krugman, if he gets more hits, no matter what he writes.

Advertising sponsored media in general is fraught with troubles, but in this specific instance I don't see the harm. Or at least the benefits outweigh the harm, in my view.

Posted by: graeme at September 18, 2007 03:47 PM
Advertising sponsored media in general is fraught with troubles, but in this specific instance I don't see the harm. Or at least the benefits outweigh the harm, in my view.

It's possible you're right. But if this had succeeded, it might have opened up other avenues for subscription-supported media. Very hard for anyone else to try it if the NY Times can't make it work.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at September 18, 2007 03:59 PM

I agree with Dave above; it was doomed not because the subscriber model is fundamentally flawed, but because they tried to charge for what the internet provides in greater and greater profusion: opinion.

The real question isn't whether 10,000,000 people will pay $1/month to read the latest thoughts of Tom Friedman--they won't--but whether 100,000 people will pay $10/month to support Sy Hersh.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at September 18, 2007 06:09 PM

"we give advertisers ultimate control of the information we get about the world"

And in the traditional consumer-supported book-and-magazine-publishing model, we give ultimate control to distributors. Or chain retailers.

Advertising has supported some pretty diverse publishing over the years. It can be evil, but so can a distribution monopoly.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at September 18, 2007 07:31 PM

I'm not sure that reading Krugman and Herbert again is worth running the risk of reading Friedman again. I think I'll just keep reading Schwarz.

Posted by: Bob at September 18, 2007 09:38 PM

"Very hard for anyone else to try it if the NY Times can't make it work."

Very true.

I'd be curious to know who actually was buying timeselect. Corporate accounts perhaps? I know they often do that for the WSJ's pay service.

Probably not people my age. People of my generation (born in 80's) are used to getting many things on the internet without paying. I often read Krugman for free, somehow, and I doubt many people my age paid.

There is almost always a way to find something for free on the internet rather than pay. So, demographic trends are against the direct pay model as well.

The only ray of hope I see here is the blogosphere and its tendency to widely circulate the good articles, thus raising their value (to advertisers). Of course, the blogosphere also circulates provocative articles (Judith Miller's WMD articles, the fake Alex Debat claims, etc.) and bad ones sometimes in order to rebut them. But I still think they circulate the good ones more than most, on average, and people reading blogs are more likely to click on them. Its these articles I usually see topping the most emailed/read/blogged lists on newspaper websites.

Does anyone know how ad policy works on the internet? Are papers charging more for the good articles yet, or only a per view fee?

Posted by: graeme at September 18, 2007 09:39 PM


Now that I think about it, I had it backwards. There's no way a widely circulated article would have more value to an advertiser, since they just pay for each click.

But, it does make widely circulated articles more valuable to newspapers, which might sharpen some minds.

I'll leave it there, I'm just rambling at this point.

Posted by: graeme at September 19, 2007 09:47 AM

I disagree Jonathan, because if the Times is like any other newspaper, they were already getting the bulk of their revenue from advertising anyway. The subscription model for newspapers is just to show advertisers how many eyeballs you have - paying customers are valuable eyeballs in the dead tree world. Any negative effects from allowing advertisers to control editorial content were already there before the Times even started putting itself on the Web.

Also, as stated above, the Times was charging for the wrong pieces. Opinions are a dime a dozen - and the competative pressures of the Internet pushes that price down even further. Informed opinions are quite valuable, but even on TimesSelect they are very, very rare - most of their ouevre of opinionators were spewing the same kind of uninformed opinion one can find at C-list blogs for free (though, admittedly, with fewer typos and grammatical errors in the TimesSelect opinions). TimesSelect is just a poor business model for the Internet age - subscription models may be able to work, but you have to be offering SOMETHING of value to get people to pony up the money for it. Had they changed their opinionators to people who provided "investigative opinion journalism" of some sort - where they backed up their assertions with honest research every week - that might have been valuable enough to subscribe to. But they didn't, and so it wasn't.

Posted by: NonyNony at September 19, 2007 11:00 AM

Newspapers suffer from the same problem as other localized monopolies (e.g., cable TV). They can't sell by the "channel" without undermining their revenue stream. (Remember when cable TV was supposed to be free of ads, thanks to subscriptions? What a sick joke that was. Now we pay a fee and still live under a tyranny of the advertisers.) Frankly, I'm not interested in reading 99% of the Times. But, I do like Krugman and the occasional article. Show me how to subscribe to that portion of the service ad-free, and I will. Otherwise, I'd rather see the Times go out of business than give a dime to Friedman or Brooks.

Posted by: tenaciousd at September 19, 2007 11:28 AM

i liked times/select bc it kept me from reading a lot of extra crapola / i sent the fifty bucks to Steve Gilliard one year and to Arthur Silber another year / i support as best i can the blogs i most appreciate and am happy when i can do it through amazon as i dont use paypal or i send a check / i wish i cd support everyone i read ! btw i am a new reader here at your blog and count on it everyday for illumination. thanks


Posted by: katherine Hunter at September 19, 2007 12:37 PM

Re NYT's copy-editing skills vs. those of the blogosphere: back in the olden days, the Times did a good job; now it only does a good job when compared to the average blogger. I have to admit, however, that the more serious the blog, the more likely it is to have punctuation, spelling, and grammar which match the seriousness of its content.
Re the comparison to cable TV: monopolies determine the packaging. I think that I'd pay more for cable if I could pick my own package. Wouldn't you? With Time Select, the Times acted as a monopoly.
New point (I think!): The internet offered the Times' pundits an opportunity that they seemed to ignore ("good" and "bad" alike).
Using the web, one can link to items that show the facts, or at least, items that support his/her opinions. John Tierney did that sometimes. I think some of the columnists could easily do that: link to news stories, that is. However, sometimes the columnists are reporting on what they have seen (facts?) and what they think of it (opinion)--for example, Kristof on Darfur or prostitution in Southeast Asia. For that matter, Friedman on changes in Dohu; I can't refute that; can you? Bob Herbert sometimes writes his opinion on items which could helpfully include a link to a news story, but sometimes he starts from a story which is under the news-radar, but nonetheless telling.
Other comments: Many of you are nearly as vitriolic as the potty-mouths from the right. "Ass-hole twins" indeed! Ouch!
Still, I've got to thank you for this collection. It's a rare day that a group of people can make me feel like a moderate, especially down here in Texas, where the John Birch Society (remember them?) is thought to be moderate.

Posted by: Jessie Sackler at September 19, 2007 03:58 PM

granny: I think the Birchers are hitting the nail on the head with that Rothchild-- Warburg thing, some of their other stuff, eh, who knows? SAY, did you know Nancy Pelosi's number is 1-202-225-0100? Give her a call if you would and please let me suggest you mention IMPEACHMENT.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 19, 2007 06:39 PM

Childish is the idealism of Jonathan's analysis, which makes the Times sound like a wholesome, independent, grass-roots enterprise, one which *deserves* our support for its dedication to investigating The Real Facts, lest it be handed over to corporate interests to serve as yet another puppet. As if it wasn't already! (as NonyNony points out)

The Times already has too much power in setting the agenda and frame of what gets talked about, and how, and if this new "freedom" harbingers further fissures in its hegemonic hold, I'm excited. I agree with Dave that people should be asked to pay for the cost of research/investigation, not punditry.

This argument reminds me of the claim that the Democratic Party is what we make of it, and that to abandon it for another party or cause (which better represents your beliefs) leaves it to the insider wolves. If we just keep funding the Dems (or the Times) they'll more faithfully respond to our interests and perspectives, never mind that giant corporate elephant in the room. Pretending that this is how things actually work will not make it so.

Posted by: fursty at September 19, 2007 08:44 PM

Every form of mass media in the US is supported by advertising. Radio, television, and newspapers all need advertisers to operate. So, relative to all other forms of media, the cost of surfing the internet for information is "free".
If HuffPo, Kos, FDL, C&L, Atrios, Digby, TomDispatch, ATR and all the others started charging subscription fees, it would deprive far too many people of their vital and diverse information and opinions.
While the 'net isn't free in the purest sense, it gives all of us unparalleled access to a wealth of knowledge we can't afford to get any other way.

Posted by: Craig Cipriano at September 20, 2007 09:39 AM