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The NYTimes: A Remembrance
March 17, 2011 - 11:00pm

I'm going to miss the New York Times. Without the Times, I'll be a less informed educator, citizen and parent. The NYTimes has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, its sections and writers constituting an important part of my mental identity.

I love the NYTimes. I believe that the NYTimes is one of our most important cultural institutions. I know that producing high quality news and analysis is expensive, and I believe that editors and journalists and all the other professionals that put out the Times each day deserve to earn a good living.

Come March 28th, however, I will no longer be a NYTimes reader? March 28th is the day when the Digital Subscriber program begins. To continue to read the NYTimes on my iPad and my computer, I'll need to pay $240 a year ($20 every 4 weeks). If I want all access digital (with will include reading on my smart phone), the price goes to $420 a year.

Non-subscribers get to view 20 articles in a calendar month for free, and browse the home page. I doubt I'll bother, as this paywall comes fast and hard.

Will you be becoming a NYTimes Digital Subscriber?

I have no idea if this strategy will for work for the Times. I know it will not work for me, but maybe they will be able to cream off enough paying digital subscribers that they will make more money than on advertising. I have 3 reasons why I will not become a digital subscriber, and 3 ideas for how the Times could have gotten my money:

Why I Will Not Become A NYTimes Digital Subscriber:

Fungibility: I'll only pay for digital goods if they are not fungible, not substitutable. I'll pay for an e-book or an audiobook because I have no way of getting that same book for free from another source. Same goes for my monthly Netflix subscription, which is moving towards all digital. Without the NYTimes I'll have to work a bit harder to get quality news, and aggregate more news sources myself, but the web will still have a surplus from which to mine.

Sunk Costs: I'm willing to buy e-book through Amazon since I've already started paying when I bought my Kindle. The Kindle is worthless without the books, so the price (as long as it is considerably lower than paper versions) seems reasonable.

Digital Savings: If I buy digital, I only want to pay for what I want. With audio books from Audible it costs me about $10 a book. Same for e-books. Netflix is a flat fee, but it is only $10 a month (and digital is cheaper than the plans that send more discs out at a time). The digital price needs to feel less than the price for a physical object.

How the NYTimes Could Have Gotten My Money:

Bundle with Something Physical: I would have happily paid $75 to get a very nice NYTimes branded leather Smart Cover with my iPad 2. These Smart Covers must have something like a 90% profit margin. The NYTimes Smart Cover would have announced to the world that I'm a NYTimes subscriber, and given me a way to buy something tangible while pushing money to the Times. This is less money than the $240 a year, but I bet an offer like this would convert many more people than the Digital Subscriber plan will.

Make the App Cheaper: Maybe $240 a year just feels like too much. The NYTimes on an iPad is an app, and apps are less expensive. I would have paid $20 for the app, even if it was a 1 year app. This is again much less money, but I wonder how many more people would buy.

Bundle with Local Papers: I do pay $362.96 to get my local paper, the Valley News, delivered to my house 7 days a week. A local paper feels like it needs to be in paper form, so the family can pass it around and so we can all read different sections at breakfast. The NYTimes could make deals with many local papers, offering a local subscription option for a bit more money (say $450), that throws in digital access. The Times could even open a new business by offering to host the local news content on their digital platforms (web and app). An instant presto hyper local strategy, without the need to buy lots of local papers.

What would it take for the NYTimes to get your money for digital content?

In the education industry we need to pay attention to what is going on in the news industry, as we are both fundamentally information industries.

All information industries are shedding their legacy connections to physical goods, just as money is moving beyond bills and coins. We will all be disagregated, unbundled, and inverted. This trend may be a bad thing and it may be a good thing (or both at once), but however we evaluate this future it will still inevitably arrive. Campuses and paper newspapers will not disappear, but they will be luxury or specialty items. Plays and musicals are still put on, but the overwhelming proportion of the entertainment economy is delivered via some screen. We still go to hear live music, and some superstar performers can make most of their money performing live, but most of the music that is actually consumed is delivered digitally.

The NYTimes is trying to figure out how to adapt to our digital now, and we should be paying close attention, as the Times' present is our near future.

 

 

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