How much will The New York Times charge per month for unlimited access to its Web site when it debuts a firewalled service early next year? Ten bucks. At least that’s the median consensus of the nearly 10,000 Slate readers who have taken a poll aimed at projecting the access fee, which remains a mystery more than 11 months after the Times announced plans to charge a fee in January. The average fee suggested by the crowd is actually somewhat lower – $8.30 – but we like $10 because it’s such a round number. We’d like it even better if hundreds of Death Watch readers stormed the Slate site and voted $1 to bring the average down. That might turn heads at 620 8th Ave.
Poynter’s Rick Edmonds pried a few more details out of Times executives about the much-anticipated online access charge. He thinks $19.99 is the nut. That’s what the Times charges for its Kindle version, so maintaining that price for standard Web access would minimize price conflict. Times Co. execs are also on record as saying that visits that come from links won’t be firewalled, but readers presumably won’t be able to navigate to other parts of the site without paying a fee.
Edmonds runs the numbers: of NYT.com’s 40 million monthly unique visitors, 15% are considered “heavy” users (viewing 40 or more pages per month), and so are the ideal candidates to convert to paid online subscribers. If there are six million of those people, and if 5% of them can be converted to paying customers, then that drops an additional $6 million to the bottom line each month. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the Times Co.’s overall annual revenues of $2.4 billion, but it’s also pure profit. It might help offset the $13 million quarterly impact of recent price increases for newsprint, a line item that’s expected to continue growing more than 10% a year for the foreseeable future. Ouch.
Corky Boyd thinks the Washington Post will be the spoiler. While newspaper industry executives huddle in secret confabs that have overtones of price-fixing, the Post has been militant in insisting it won’t charge for access to its website. Boyd thinks the Post is awaiting a windfall of readers when the walls go up in Manhattan. “If the Times goes the pay route and the Post doesn’t, the Times readers will gravitate to the Post, jeopardizing the Times’ reputation as the ‘newspaper of record.’” Perhaps, but we’re not so sure the Post‘s Beltway-centric view is going to appeal to the average Times reader. We think it’s more likely that the audience will simply continue to fragment as it has for years. Readership is increasingly driven by search engines, RSS feeds, tweets and e-mailed links, not brand loyalty. Price-sensitive readers will find their new sources wherever Google takes them.
Gaming the System
How many e-mails does it take to move a story on NYT.com onto the hallowed “most e-mailed list?” About 1,300. At least that’s what Thomas Weber estimated after he and a global team of lackeys recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service moved an obscure, three-week-old story from the Science section to the second slot on the list. Writing on the Daily Beast, Weber describes how he conducted dry runs in the weeks preceding the Dec. 14 experiment to first see what it took to move a story onto the list in the Science section alone (about 45) and then to break into the top-25 list for the NYT.com site as a whole (about 300).
Conclusion: “Out of the 30-plus million Times website visitors each month, it takes only one out of every 25,000 emailing a particular story to secure it a spot, at least for a day, in the hallowed most-emailed list.” Which indicates that the wisdom of crowds can be manipulated by the wisdom of a very few people within the crowd. We’ve always known this, of course; story placement on Digg.com is famously influenced by less than 1% of its visitors. Weber’s experiment demonstrates, though, that a carefully coordinated campaign by just a few hundred people could gain something like a positive movie review considerable visibility at little or no cost. Maybe others figured this out long ago and just haven’t told us about it.
Keep an Eye on Patch.com
AOL’s rapidly growing Patch.com local news network is beginning to draw some veteran journalists to its fold, or at least that’s the case in LA. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Rainey tells how veteran reporter Nancy Wride scooped the Long Beach Press-Telegram with her reporting on a police shooting that happened just two blocks from her home. Wride worked at the Times for nearly 30 years before being caught in one of that paper’s many layoffs. She now splits her time between mothering and tending the Patch site in Belmont Shore. Several of her former colleagues from big media have joined her on a freelance basis, including “former Times photographer Lori Shepler, former Times outdoors writer Pete Thomas and former KFWB radio reporter Sharon Katchen.”
It isn’t just Belmont Shore that’s enjoying the bounty. Rainey lists a handful of other local media fixtures who contribute to Patch. The pay isn’t so good, and the hours can be long, but at least it’s some reward for people to do what they do best. Patch just opened its 600th local outlet and is continuing to hire aggressively. Its jobs page lists 236 open editorial positions.
Online ad spending nearly doubled in 2010 and is expected to surpass print newspaper revenues for the first time, according to eMarketer. Meanwhile, print revenues are expected to continue their tailspin in 2011, dropping another 6%. EMarketer now estimates that by the end of next year, annual print revenues will have dropped an astonishing 55% in just six years and total industry revenues will have fallen by half.
If you use the venerable Delicious.com bookmarking service, you should be aware that owner Yahoo is trying to get rid of it. Yahoo says it had no intention of shutting down Delicious, which used to go by the geeky URL of del.icio.us, but that the site is no longer a strategic fit. We wonder just what is a strategic fit any more for the aimless Web directory.
The movie-making site Xtranormal had somehow evaded our awareness until a friend sent us a funny/sad/provocative video about a would-be journalism student. The site lets you create movies by submitting a dialogue in text and choosing avatars to play the characters. The characters speak in a monotone and gesture robotically, which makes the result all the more amusing. Only some of the topics can be quite vicious. For example, check out “So You Want to Go to Law School,” which has more than one million views on YouTube. In the meantime, we hope the dialogue below helps make your season bright.
This entry was posted on Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 at 6:22 am and is filed under Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Newspapers, Paywalls. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.