India Uncut

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Two walls

First there was the Berlin Wall. That came down.

Now there is the TimesSelect wall. Mark Glaser asks in MediaShift that Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher of the New York Times, tear down that wall as well.

Glaser's take on Ronald Reagan's famous speech is skillful -- he's a fine journalist -- but I don't agree with it. Tim Porter responded eloquently to it here, in response to which Glaser wrote (in an update here):
... [O]f course journalists should be paid for their work, but ... TimesSelect is the wrong way to do that. Online advertising is booming, and paid content online — whether general news or business news — is not.
Fair enough, as opinions go, but whether or not TimesSelect is the wrong way for NYT to make its money is a business decision for NYT to judge, and one that will inevitably be determined by its readers. If enough readers subscribe to make it profitable for NYT, they'll go on with it, and why not? All the writers behind that wall -- Kristof, Tierney, Krugman, Friedman, Dowd et al -- are there by choice (unlike the people on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall), and if they choose to stick with it and have their readership diminished, who are we to argue with them?

The writers we read regularly on the internet create value for us, and even when we are willing to pay a price for this value -- indeed, even when we do pay a price for this value -- the writer rarely sees any of it. For example, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you clearly put a value to it. You're paying a price in terms of opportunity cost -- there are so many other things you could be doing now. (Indeed, you are paying a tangible cost for reading my blog if you are on a dial-up ISP and could simply be offline right now.)

Yet, the way things stand, there is little I can do to make money for the value I provide until I reach a certain critical mass (in terms of advertising). And even if you were willing to actually pay, say, 25 paise per post that you read on my blog (I hope you think I am worth that much!), there is no way you could actually pay me, for the transaction costs would be too high, and the mechanics of it simply not worth the trouble for you.

If I spent my blogging time on freelance writing, I'd no doubt make loads more money. But I blog, because my rewards from blogging go beyond money. That is a personal choice I make, and one that will not bend to anyone else's ideals. Similarly, NYT has made its choice with TimesSelect. Is it the right choice? I have no idea. But it is good that they are on the road to finding out.

(Glaser link via email from Arzan, who blogs on it here.)
amit varma, 5:47 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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