Tuesday, August 07, 2007

NYT circles the drain

From The New York Post:

August 7, 2007 -- The New York Times is poised to stop charging readers for online access to its Op-Ed columnists and other content, The Post has learned.

After much internal debate, Times executives - including publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. - made the decision to end the subscription-only TimesSelect service but have yet to make an official announcement, according to a source briefed on the matter.

The timing of when TimesSelect will shut down hinges on resolving software issues associated with making the switch to a free service, the source said.

Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis would only say in an e-mailed statement, "We continue to evaluate the best approach for NYTimes.com."

While other online publications were abandoning subscriptions, the Times took the opposite approach in 2005 and began charging for access to well-known writers, including Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Thomas L. Friedman.

The decision, which also walled off access to archives and other content, was controversial almost from the start, with some of the paper's own columnists complaining that it limited their Web readership.

In July, The Post reported that insiders were lobbying to shut down the service. After two years, however, the move to do away with TimesSelect may have more to do with growth than grumbling inside the paper.

The number of Web-only subscribers who pay $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year fell to just over 221,000 in June, down from more than 224,000 in April.

If you want to know the truth the whole "TimesSelect" business was due to the fact that fisking the NYT's op-ed writers, especially Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd, had become a cottage industry in the blogosphere.

Krugman, who is the Times economist, was and is in the habit of simply making up numbers and ignoring contrary facts in support of his loony-left socialist agenda. A group of conservative writers formed the "Krugman Truth Squad" to take apart his every printed word and expose the incompetence and falsehood always contained therein. Krugman, who would use anonymous posts on DailyKos as gospel truth in building his arguments began to complain that he was "being stalked".

As for Maureen Dowd, it soon became obvious to anyone with an IQ even in the double digits that every last word this drama queen wrote about anything was really all about her and her dysfunctional life. Holding her up to mockery and ridicule became so easy that many people swore it off as "shooting fish in a barrel". For an example of a masterful fisking of Dowd go here.

So the Times had a problem. Their marquee writers, who they were very proud of, were becoming an embarrassment and turning the entire paper into even more of a laughing stock that it already was.

Their answer? Rather than clean house and get rid of the dead wood they decided to protect their "stars" behind a pay-per-view firewall. Little Pinch bet that none of MoDo or Krugman's tormentors would consider reading their words a privileged worth paying so much as a penny for, and they were mostly right.

But now they have come to the point where they must face the fact of their dwindling circulation and growing irrelevance. Advertisers will pay for online advertising in proportion to the number of readers that advertising will reach. In an environment in which the paper is being forced to reduce its physical size to save production costs the numbers who will take the Times online for free versus those the fewer number who are willing to pay for it amount to thousands of dollars in income every month. And when you are in as bad a situation as the Times finds itself thousands of dollars every month seem to matter a great deal.

So now the right side of the blogosphere may once again use MoDo and Krugman as a convenient dartboard.

I wonder how they like being thrown overboard?