Charge for the accessories. Create a NYTimes branded iPad and iPhone/Touch case. Make it gorgeous. Work with Apple to have your NYTimes iPad case be the exclusive case offered in their stores and online. Convince Apple to forgo its cut for this accessory. Since you are creating a really wonderful iPad and iPhone App (and giving it away), Apple should be willing to be generous.
Communicate about how important the revenue for the NYTimes iPad/iPhone case is to pay for your journalism. Publish numbers about how many iPad/iPhone cases sold pays for a journalist's salary. Turn owning an iPad or iPod NYTimes case into a status symbol, a tangible signal that the adopter is both tech forward and support high quality journalism. Do the NYTimes iPad/iPod case, and next find other opportunities to leverage your brand and your quality content to earn money. Convince technology companies that your accessory deals do not need to be exclusive - produce accessories for the Kindle, the Nook and other e-readers and tablets.
I'm hesitant to pay for online news, but I seem willing to pay ridiculous sums of money for accessories. I think my iTouch cover was 30 bucks. I can't remember the last time I bought an app (too many free, advertising supported good ones). Find the things around your content that people are willing to buy and enter that market.
Will this idea save the NYTimes? Can national print newspaper rely on small revenue generating ideas to replace the value lost classifieds and subscriptions? Of course not. But small ideas might work better than small payments.
Did you read Isaacson's piece "How to Save Your Newspaper"? He recommends micropayments, writing that "We need something like digital coins or an E-ZPass digital wallet — a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video for a penny, nickel, dime or whatever the creator chooses to charge." He thinks if Apple can get people to pay 99 cents for a song than newspapers can get people to pay for an article. This approach may work, but I'm skeptical. I sort of doubt you would click on the link and go ahead and read Isaacson's great article if you were asked to pay for it. There is simply too much content on the Web, too little time in the day, and too many people (like me) who don't want your money but your attention.
If paywalls and micropayments are bad ideas, cutting the quality of your core product by laying off reporters is even worse. Diminish the quality of your news and you loose any chance to capture revenues on associated products/services that are less price sensitive. I'm not going to buy a NYTimes iPad/iPhone case if I don't spend lots of time on NYTimes content. Invest in your central value proposition, give it away, and then find ways to make money around it.
This argument is far from a new one. Same argument for musicians - give away your music and make your money on concert tickets and T-shirts. Writers should give away their digital books, and make money from speaking fees. Have you read Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price?
It is important that our higher ed community engage in the interlinked discussions of newspapers and free content. I'm weary of paywalls for online newspaper because I don't want anything to stand in between content (links) and my students. Anything locked up, that can't be forward or linked to an LMS, is less likely to make it into our curriculum and course discussions. We have an educational self-interest in free. Of course, like everyone else, we also have an interest in the continued creation of high quality journalism - as journalism is often great curriculum. We should recognize these competing interests, and try to come up with as many (small) ideas that we can think of to save newspapers. What is your small idea?
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