This is a test of the producer culture system
The New York Times launched their online subscription service, TimesSelect, today, and I’ve just switched my home page on Firefox over to the NPR news page. Times Select will be an interesting test of my ideas on producer culture. Basically, the Times is locking up access to the top columnists on the paper and offering online readers access to what they read for free yesterday at the bargain subscription price of $49.95 today.
Now I’m not such a zealot of open sharing that I think that the NYTimes shouldn’t have the right to charge for this “premium content,” but in an age where there is so much good opinion available for free, I think it’s just really dumb of the Times to head down this road. Of course they are correct to think the columnists are their most valuable content–Friedman and Krugman especially. What they don’t get is that the columnists are the differentiating content that brings me to their site and not another news source. Their news coverage is good, but let’s face it, at the level of just keeping up on the headlines, news coverage is somewhat of a commodity item. The only other reason I have for coming to the NYTimes site is to hear the whining about the Yankees season from the Yankee perspective. And with Friedman, I can wait for the book, too, because he beats the same drum quite a bit.
So with the differentiating content now unavailable (’cause I ain’t paying 50 bucks) I have little incentive to come to the site at all. Blog reading will certainly replace much of the op-ed reading time, and I can get good opinion columns elsewhere. I don’t get why the columnists themselves have gone along with this, unless they were promised a cut of the subscriptions. Their views go from being global to being provincial in a hurry this way, plus they end up being restricted to only those with $50 to spare. Anyway producer culture theory would predict that–given the wide availability of content–the NYTimes is going to drive down their traffic and hence their advertising revenue faster than they can make it up on subscriptions. Plus, as I’m just discovering, NPR has got some really top-notch podcasts now available.