The idea is not as crazy as it sounds. It’s an online publishing strategy.
Well, it turns out the leak was true.
The New York Times announced today that the TimesSelect premium content service is ending at midnight. Almost all of the paper’s content dating from 1851 to present will be free online starting tomorrow.
For two years NYTimes.com charged TimesSelect subscribers for access to columnists and archives. Many other parts of the website remained free during this period, making NYTimes.com a subscription and advertising based hybrid archetype website.
Now, except for “some material from the period 1923 to 1986,” all of the paper’s content will be free, according to the article. That means NYTimes.com has shifted its business model almost exclusively to advertising.
“Our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com, in the article. Schiller also wrote a letter to NYTimes.com readers.
The decision was made, in part, because many people arriving at NYTimes.com are not loyal readers typing in the homepage URL. Instead, they arrive via search engines and links from other sites.
Those readers want one article, and they aren’t monetized if the article is locked up for subscribers. By making all of articles free and offering ads on them, NYTimes.com can monetize every visitor to its pages.
The main lesson for publishers to take away from the Times’ decision:
Users and search engines love free, valuable content
If you’re running a membership website that is having trouble staying afloat, then breaking down your firewall could help. Freeing your content will give search engines more information to spider, and that will help drive website traffic. When visitors see how much great free content you have, they’re likely to return, driving up your advertising revenue.
Offering more free content is virtually guaranteed to increase website traffic and advertising revenue (as long as you’re still running Internet marketing campaigns). That makes readers and owners very happy. It’s a win-win.
We are happy with the Times’ decision and expect it to help the paper survive as an American institution for decades to come.