It has been known for some time that the New York Times is considering a membership scheme as a way to bring in more revenue for the paper, whose financial difficulties have been widely publicised. Subscribers have been surveyed to see if they would be willing to pay for online news or other services, and Gawker has published information from one of the user surveys on proposed Silver and Gold membership programs.
The details have not been finalised but the survey offers an idea of what the Times is considering. Both of the suggested schemes include BackStory and FirstLook: access to videos of reporters telling "the story behind the story" and access to some stories before they are published, as well as a personalised weekly email with links to "our best online content."
Both offers also include TimesWire, a news feed of all NYT content as it is published, a service which is currently available to all users of the Times' website but would presumably be taken off. TimesMachine is another component of both proposals, allowing members to access digital images of the actual pages of the newspaper from any day in the Times' history.
The additional benefits of the Gold program, which are offered for an extra $100 on top of the $50 proposed price of Silver membership, are TimesEvents and TimesInsider. TimesEvents offers members the chance to attend events with NYT journalists, or go on tours or attend members only programs "around the country." TimesInsider offers "insider's access to the people who bring you your Times everyday," including a tour of the Times headquarters.
Enrollees to both also receive free NYT memorabilia, a 25% discount at the NYT store, a free subscription to NYT crossword puzzles and the first chance to buy tickets to TimesTalks.
Notably, neither of the offers mentions premium news products, suggesting that such an idea might not have made it to the Times' shortlist for money making. The other proposal which has been discussed by the Times to make money from readers is a metre system, similar to that used by the Financial Times. It would involve offering readers free access to a certain amount of articles, after which they would be charged. The Silver and Gold membership proposals, although clearly unfinalised, suggest that they might be entirely independent of such a metre proposal, or other online subscription ideas which the paper has surveyed its subscribers about. In other words, members would still have to pay to access all content on the Times' site.
Would people be prepared to pay for these extra services, most of which do not actually constitute news? To a seriously committed NYT fan, they are likely to appeal, but how many of these are there who are willing to spend the extra cash for these benefits? Nieman Lab's Martin Langeveld points out that what the Times is offering resembles membership to a museum or similar non-profit institution, which he does not consider the best way forward as the Times is clearly a business, not a museum. Instead, Langeveld suggests niche packages such as travel, tech, design, politics or books, offering premium content that readers might be prepared to buy.