Slate‘s Mickey Kaus hears “rumblings” that the New York Times may finally ditch its TimesSelect program. The papers’ employees, investors and readers should hope he’s right. TimesSelect is the paper’s futile exercise to see how many people would pay to read portions of it online. Some will: The paper’s latest report on the project said some 220,000 people were paying $50 a year for an online subscription; the paper has a print circulation of 1.1 million.
But surely the paper could make up that $11 million a year in short order by dropping their walls and giving online readers unfettered access to its op-ed columnists online (see calculation below). Just as important, by cutting stars like Tom Friedman and Frank Rich off from the rest of the Internet, the Times has diminished its (and their) influence – and helped create room for upstarts like The Huffington Post to step in.
If the Times does open up, it will be one of the last American giants to do so, leaving just the Wall Street Journal as the only major media outlet asking readers to pay to read online content. For the time being, at least: Rupert Murdoch has given every indication that he’ll take the Journal, or most of it, free online once the Bancrofts finally capitulate and hand over Dow Jones.
The Times currently has 220,000 TimesSelect subs paying about $50 a year. This presumably generates about $11 million in revenue. The question is how many additional readers/pageviews the columnists would need to offset the loss of this revenue if the Times just opened up the columns again.
Assuming no incremental brand, advertising, and influence value gained from having the columns freely available (and there would be a lot), the numbers might look like this: If the Times can generate $10 per thousand pageviews for the pages (a penny a page), the columnists would have to generate an additional 3 million pageviews per day (37 million a month) to offset the lost subscription fees. If the Times can get a $20 CPM (remember, they can stick lots of ads on each page), this would cut the pageview hurdle in half. Given the popularity of the Times site and the columnists themselves, these hurdles should eventually be low, especially once the word spreads that the columns are again free and the worldwide link-fest begins.
These calculations, moreover, attribute NO value to influence, visibility, and brand benefits the columnists should garner for the Times once they’re in the global “conversation” again. So tear down that wall!