Two years ago, when the New York Times announced its plans to implement a paywall, most of the digerati guffawed.Dumb old media company, they snickered. Still too thickheaded and backward to see that in the new world news would always be free.
Many of the digerati followed up their verdicts with super-detailed analyses of exactly why the paywall would fail. But here’s one thing that most of those analyses ignored:
The paywall’s impact on the legacy print business.
Shortly after the paywall went up, the New York Times announced that it already had 100,000 subscribers, which seemed like a good start. But there has been another benefit to the paywall that no one is focusing on.
One of the reasons the New York Times’ circulation numbers have declined in recent years is the discrepancy between the cost of a print paper (~$600 a year) versus the cost of the web site (free).
Even people who love their newsprint had to give serious thought to why they were blowing $600 for nothing. But now that the paywall is in place, they at least don’t have to feel like idiots anymore.
And that, a senior New York Times Company executive told us on background this morning, is leading to an uptick in print subscriptions.
Another executive confirmed this, saying the company is “seeing an uptick in new print orders in all frequencies–7 days, Weekender, and Sunday.”
(We’d heard about folks jumping on the Weekender as a the cheapest way to get unlimited web access and a Sunday paper to boot. But this was the first we’d heard of the other subscriptions increasing as well.)
In other words, the New York Times’ digital paywall is not only helping the digital business develop a meaningful new revenue stream (without crippling the existing one–because the NYT has way more digital ad inventory than it can sell). It’s helping to sustain the paper’s core print business.
(By the way, not to gloat, but we thought the paywall was a good idea…)
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