Chairman and publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, stressed the need to take risks and not be afraid of failure in the quest to find a business model that can adequately support high quality journalism. He was speaking at the WAN-IFRA 9th International Newsroom Summit in London.
The New York Times is due to introduce a 'metered' paywall in early 2011. Readers will be allowed to access a certain number of articles free each month, then will be asked to pay. "This has the benefit of allowing our millions of readers who come to us through search engine to still find our content," Sulzberger specified, while those who use the site heavily will be charged.
He confirmed that the paper will work with Google to implement First Click Free, stressing that "we want to ensure that NYTimes.com continues to be part of the open web ecosystem."
Many details of the pay strategy are yet to be decided, however. "We are still working on deciding what type of content will count towards the metre," as photos and graphics may well require different considerations. "We are in the process of conducting extensive research to decide on pricing and the extent of the metre," he continued, adding that "we will be refining all these policies as we get ready to launch in the near future."
"Our pursuit of the pay model is a step in the right direction for us," Sulzberger said. "We believe that serious media organisations must start to collect additional revenue from their readers," and "information is less and less yearning to be free." Readers are becoming increasingly willing to buy information on the web if it enhances their lives, he said.
A further incentive towards experimentation is that in the digital age, the cost of changing is low. "If we discover that we've tried something that's not working, we could change it." This should not be seen as failure, he emphasised, but as a willingness to adapt and learn. The TimesSelect experiment in 2007 was not aborted because of a failure to succeed, Sulzberger insisted, but because the paper thought it could make more money from advertising revenue.
"Don't lock yourself into a direction," he warned.
Putting up a paywall does not in itself comprise a business model, however, rather "we must reconsider the very nature" of user engagement. Sulzberger noted many ways in which the NYT is beginning to engage further its readers by producing abundant multimedia and graphics, and by inviting them to join crowdsourcing initiatives. The paper recently developed a tighter level of integration with Facebook, and Sulzberger hopes that the NYT will be able to build a tighter emotional bond with their readers by encouraging them to come to NYTimes.com with their own identities, and by allowing them to find NYT content wherever they might be.
Asked about his response to the suggestion that the NYT might print its last edition in 2015, Sulzberger said he saw no point in making such predictions and said all he could say was that "we will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD."
[CLARIFICATION: Sulzberger was not making an announcement that the New York Times has definite plans to stop printing in the near future; rather making the point, in a joking fashion, that it is impossible and fruitless to predict exactly when printed newspapers might come to an end.]