Anticipating TimesSelect, a Reader Proposes a Paid Online Alternative

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By: E&P Staff

On Sept. 19, the newspaper industry will be anxiously awaiting the arrival of TimesSelect, a new online subscription product from The New York Times. The move is bold by any measure; although the vast majority of The Times’s news and analysis will remain free on NYTimes.com, the site’s popular and influential Op-Ed columnists will reside behind a paid wall.

The following letter from an avid news consumer comes in response to Steve Outing’s analysis of TimesSelect, and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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Dear Mr. Outing,

As an avid reader of both print and online media, I frequently look at sites such as Editor & Publisher and Poynter. So I read with interest your column about the New York Times’s somewhat snobbishly named TimesSelect service. While I look at the Times on line every day, I have no intention of paying $50 a year to do so.

There have to be better models than this. If I am typical, most people would be unwilling to pay for online media, given the present model. If I want to spend money on a paper, I might as well buy the print version even if it costs more; everything else being equal, ink on paper is a much more convenient medium for someone who wishes to read a paper in more depth than just browsing. I live in Rochester, New York, and for various reasons to do with the increasingly inadequate American press, I have for the past three or four years been buying the Toronto Globe and Mail daily, which our local supermarket carries on the day of issue. The Globe and Mail began charging on-line for much of its opinion content and other features in an even more limiting way than the New York Times intends. In my opinion it has hurt the quality of the print edition. Whenever I read a paper I turn first to the readers’ letters. Before the change, a typical week’s letters might have included international correspondence from Manchester, Melbourne, Madras, or Madrid. Now it is relatively rare to see letters from outside Canada, which is a pretty good indication of how the Globe and Mail’s reach has contracted. The paper has curtailed access to some of its best writers, which is exactly what The New York Times is about to do.

I also read the Guardian (U.K.) online; this paper also has paid-for services. While I was a bit put out to find that I no longer have access to the crossword on line, I was relieved that all of the news or editorial content is still free. Obviously, that is a reasonable model for the readers, but I also believe it is better for the paper which sees itself as much as a service to its public as a business.

I understand the dilemma that papers have in sustaining their online services. However, if all of them went to a paid-for model, few people would be willing to pay for one paper, and even fewer for several.

For me, the current online subscription model does not provide enough value for money. I would probably change my mind if there were some kind of clearing-house model. Readers would pay a subscription to the clearinghouse for the right to access all paid-for services. The clearinghouse would pay an individual paper based on the number of hits for that paper. Give enough subscribers, which I believe would be forthcoming, I believe that the subscription fee could be quite modest.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Kimon Papadopoulos
Rochester, N.Y.

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