According to the New York Observer, the New York Times is considering two different proposals for charging for content. Executive editor Bill Keller told staff about the ideas that the paper is looking at.
One is a "meter system" which would allow the reader to surf the site without charge until reading a predetermined limit - words or pageviews - after which a metre will start running and the reader is charged for the rest of their movement on the site. It is not clear whether readers would be allowed a certain limit per day, or how else this would be measured. Keller apparently warned staff at the meeting that this pay model would be "tricky" as a fine balance would have to be found: if the limit of free content was too small, readers could be discouraged and traffic would fall, while as if it was too high, there would be little improvement in revenue.
One of the obvious risks of putting a pay wall in place - which the Times discovered in 2007 when it implemented TimesSelect - is that traffic and therefore advertising revenue will drop. Keller said that the site currently makes "a lot, a lot of money" from digital advertising and that the paper's executives believe it is "substantially more" than that which the Wall Street Journal makes from a subscription-based pay model.
The second proposal is a "membership" system, which seems to be encouraging readers to donate money to the paper. Those who pledge money are invited into a "New York Times community." The Observer suggests that this might been getting a baseball cap or T-shirt, an invitation to a Times event or perhaps access to specialist web content. Keller mentioned that he would not be opposed to inviting donors to an editorial meeting, as long as it did not affect the paper competitively.
Evidently there would have to be some kind of fixed donation amount or scale, and the benefits provided to the community would have to be significant, as there is a limit to how many people would be prepared to donate just to help out, or for the prestige it would offer. Among Jennifer 8. Lee's Twitter notes from a staff meeting last Monday was the suggestion that the paper was considering a tiered membership scheme, which was compared to an American Express card membership with different levels such as platinum and gold.
Keller stressed that no firm decisions have been made, but said that executives hope to reach a consensus by the end of June. After this it would take some time to develop appropriate software. He mentioned that a pay model could be applied to the Times' mobile site before the web site as a whole. It was also recently reported that the New York Times has been in conversation with Google about trying to get the paper a cut of the advertising revenue generated when other sites reproduce NYT content.
Whatever system the paper tries to implement, one can be sure that the NYT has learnt lessons from its TimesSelect experience in 2007 and will try its best to maintain advertising revenue alongside any pay wall that it puts up. Trying to find the most favourable balance of the two revenue streams of advertising and subscriptions is a tough challenge for any newspaper, and one that many will be presumably looking at as both News Corp and MediaNews Group are both planning to start charging for online content in the near future.
Source: New York Observer