Sep 20 2007

TimesSelect is no more

Published by at 7:13 am under internet,Reading

Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor and media expert, posted on his blog BuzzMachine earlier this week that the New York Times has scrapped their TimeSelect feature, which charged users for online content in certain areas of its website.

“No one with sufficient experience ever thought that TimesSelect made good business sense. Oh, they talked a good game: It was another revenue stream to balance dependence on advertising, said the spin, . . . It was a tribute to the great value of the Times brand and its unique content ,. . . It was an opportunity to create added value worth added revenue. . . . It was a way to give print subscribers new benefits. Yada-yada-ka-ching.

Bull. TimesSelect represented the last gasp of the circulation mentality of news media, the belief that surely consumers would continue to pay for content even as the Internet commodified news and — more important — even as the Internet revealed that the real value in media is not owning and controlling content or distribution but enabling conversation.”

In my humble ten years of experience, having worked with small and large community websites, a regional newspaper website and for three national magazine websites, the arguments for gated content were always similar to the above quote. I consistently argued that their logic was pretty flimsy when all users were clamoring for free information and had no qualms about stating they’d go elsewhere for it. Despite the fact that companies often stated that they had “unique” content that readers would want to pay for, online readers still found the information they were looking for. And not being a policy-maker, my opinions were politely noted and ignored.

I think that what many online execs failed to realize these last ten years was that information dissemination on the Internet does not work like your typical subscription based model for print publications. Only within the last few years have the majority come around to seeing the many other creative ways of monetizing online information and services. Until then, they were content to keep using he hammer and anvil approach to forcing “netizens” to conform to old school models. “Good luck with that,” I would mumble as I left meetings and boardrooms. The fact that I was providing them insight not just as an employee, but as a person used used the Internet for anything and everything, was not a consideration.

Now, many of these pay-for-content models are going belly up. This is especially true for newspapers, who have their backs against the wall as they struggle to find new forms of revenue as print subscriptions dwindle and gated online content sits idle with tiny amounts of traffic. Online readers are leaving their websites for others offering the same information for free and reporters and editors are finding themselves left out in the cold from layoffs and staff cuts.

Additionally, a lot of online newspapers are still holding firm to the notion that readers will pay for select, special or additional content. NOT! If I go to a small town newspaper website, do they really think that I’m going to pay extra for some online classifieds, archived articles, a few quirky columnists, obituaries and other odds and ends? It’s highly doubtful. I’d rather find a blog from a topic expert or a site that specializes in that subject matter. They’re usually more interesting, more informative and I can participate in the dialogue that is taking place.

With the New York Times taking down their veritable “Berlin Wall”, I’m curious to see if some of my local and regional newspapers (Daily News of Newburyport, Boston Globe and Boston Herald) follow suit.

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