NY Times to charge for access
Implementation needlessly risky
I feel bad for the New York Times because they have taken another stab at on-line journalism and almost got it right. The Times announced today that starting in 2011 the paper would begin charging for frequent access to its reporting. I applaud this much of the announcement since I believe that charging for Internet access and then moving most or all of a newspaper’s subscribers to the Web is necessary for the future of quality journalism.
I applaud Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s high minded statement that, “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.” Indeed the announcement article is full of such sentiments. The article also says, for instance, “Executives said they were not bothered by the prospect of absorbing barbs for moving cautiously.” And there’s this: “There’s no prize for getting it quick,” said Janet L. Robinson, the company’s president and chief executive. “There’s more of a prize for getting it right.”
The article says the Times will use the next year to figure out some of the details, like how many free articles to grant before the charging mechanism kicks in. That makes sense to me.
The only fly in the proverbial ointment, and it’s a big one, comes right at the end of the article: “The Times will not use one of the pay systems being marketed by other companies, like Journalism Online, led by Steven Brill, or the News Corporation, instead choosing to create the system essentially from scratch.”
Scratch!? You’ve got to be kidding me! The Times does not make its own ink and there are no lumberjacks or paper makers on staff: it buys paper and ink. But if it does not bother to vertically integrate these industries that got started somewhere in the Ming Dynasty, why on earth does it think it can get into the software business and “create the system essentially from scratch”?
Until I read those lines I thought early 2011 was conservative or even stodgy. Implementing a scalable and industrial strength billing capability should be idiot-proof and most of the next year would involve acclimating customers to the new reality.
Now? Who knows? The Times will now experience all of the joys of bet your company, major software development and chances are really, really good that the result won’t be really, really right. It didn’t have to be this way.
You can’t see this but I am shaking my head.