I’ve become increasingly annoyed at my inability to access (directly) an article in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times because they put up a “paywall” between me and the article: they want me to buy a subscription in order to get it.
Now don’t think for one minute that I don’t think their writers ought to get paid. I’m a writer. I like getting paid. But the world of the internet is changing how information is delivered, and the print media is dying. And, at present at least, I can gain indirect access to the article elsewhere on the internet, or I can go elsewhere for the information I’m seeking.
Felix Simon is a writer for Reuters and he made a bet with a friend at the Financial Times that the New York Times wouldn’t get 300,000 subscribers to get past their newly established paywall. Simon may lose his bet, but the revenues behind the numbers tell the real story:
The [Time's] second-quarter-earnings report proves that its digital-subscription plan has thus far been an enormous success. The internal projections have been closely held, but several people have confirmed that the goal was to amass 300,000 online subscribers within a year of launch.
On Thursday, the company announced that after just four months, 224,000 users were paying for access to the paper’s website.
But here’s the rest of the story:
There seems little doubt that, barring something enormous and unexpected, I’m going to lose my bet; the only question is by how much. Total digital subscription revenues are still going to be a drop in the bucket — if the NYT gets 500,000 digital subscribers at say $200 a year each, that’s $100 million a year, which is a lot of money in absolute terms but still just a fraction of the more than $2 billion that the NYT sees in total annual revenues… (my emphasis)
The subscription revenue is nice, but it’s not in and of itself going to allow the Sulzbergers to start paying themselves a dividend again.