The New York Times is poised to stop charging readers for online access to its Op-Ed columnists and other content, The Post has learned.
..... The number of Web-only subscribers who pay $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year fell to just over 221,000 in June, down from more than 224,000 in April.
Not that it was a particularly insightful prediction, but yours truly wrote the following in November 2005 (first item at link), when the Times announced it had reached 135,000 online TimeSelect subscribers (current print subscribers get TimeSelect access free of charge):
I don’t see TimesSelect getting past double the current paid level, even over the long haul, because I expect drop-offs to about equal add-ons after the first-year buildup.
That post also linked to and excerpted a now-unavailable story at Editor & Publisher that, two years, later, makes it very clear that the Times has not accomplished the goals it set for itself with TimeSelect:
….. NYTimes.com has offered a number of piecemeal premium services in the past, but in aggregate they only brought in a couple million dollars a year. The ambition is to have a much larger revenue stream.
He’s looking for significant numbers. The goal won’t be met with TimesSelect subscription numbers in the tens of thousands, (NY Times Digital President) Nisenholtz says; it needs to be in the hundreds of thousands in the early years, and even more over the long term.
The Times didn't even get close to double what they had in late 2005. The drop-off reported in the Post indicates that whatever growth was going to occur is over. Further, there is reason to believe that students and others entitled to deeply discounted rates may make up a more-than-minor large percentage of the current 221,000-plus subscribers, meaning that the Times is in all likelihood getting no more than, and probably quite a bit less than, $10 million a year from TimeSelect (if everyone was paying $50, it would be just over $11 million). That's a relative pittance.
Times columnists were among those who, according to the Post, agitated for the change. I don't blame them -- Seriously, has anyone missed the ability to read Mo Dowd and Paul Krugman for free during the past almost-two years? Times writers were deliberately taken out of the national conversation by their short-sighted management. It must be difficult to see your relevance diminish with each passing column.
I suppose the Times walled-off columnists believe they believe they'll have more influence on the upcoming presidential election attempt to coronate Hillary Clinton once the TimeSelect firewall is gone. They're probably right, but it may backfire: I'd say it's just as likely that the more ordinary readers are re-exposed to the dreck emanating from the likes of Dowd, Krugman, Frank Rich, et al, the more turned off they'll be towards anyone they (the columnists) have favorable opinions of.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.