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By Thomas Baekdal - March 2011

The NYTimes Paywall and the missing Question

The web is filled with commentary about NYTimes new paywall, but there seems to be one critical question that nobody asks. That question is "Why and what?"

Why should I pay for the New York Times? What makes it special enough to pay for? What is it that you can do for me that nobody else can?

Everyone talks about how the new pricing models favors print (it does). How all content should be free (freeloaders!). How they just need to make advertisers pay 20x more (yeah, right!). How it goes against all digital trends, to have separate payment models for each device (which is daft). And, a metering system that punishes loyal readers, rather than reward them.

As Steve Buttry from TBD said,

This punishes their most loyal readers for their loyalty: If you really like us and keep on coming back, we'll make you pay. The hit-and-run Times readers can read for free without ever being bothered. What the hell kind of business model is that?

While all are valid concerns (except the freeloading part), none of it really matters.

When people complain about your price, how to access, or your different payment models, they are not really worried about the price. That might be what they say, but that is not what people really mean.

The question everyone is really asking is "why and what?" Why should I pay and what makes you special?

This is where the New York Times (and every news company) fails. They are not answering the why and what? They are simply talking about the price.

Here is the thing. People will gladly pay a lot of money for all kinds of products. The cost of an all-digital subscription to the New York Times is laughably low.

The price is not the problem. The problem is that people cannot see the value.

The news industry is behaving like spoiled kids. Just because they used to have everything they believe that people will pay simply because they exist. "We bring you news", they say. "So what?", people respond!

They say, "we bring you better news than everyone else!" And people respond, "just like all the other newspapers who are also bringing better news than anyone else!"

And continue, "we bring you more news than anyone else!" To which people respond, "we do not need more. We already got 31,000 articles about Japan raising the severity rating of their nuclear disaster, and 7,300 articles about the UN resolution to fight Gaddafi!"

What makes you so damn special?

That is the only question that matters, and that is the question the New York Times have to answer.

Note: I actually think the NYTimes paywall will be profitable. Not because of the paywall or the metering system, but simply because of their size, position, and brand.

Read also "How To Survive In A World of Abundance" and "The Future of News And The Replicators." (baekdal Plus)


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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