New York Times Figures Out the Web: It’s Free!

The New York Times has announced that, effective midnight tonight, they will stop charging for access to various portions of their Website.

Two years ago the Times made what turned out to be a stupid decision: they decided to start charging for their top columnists, 20-year archives, and various special features. The result was that influential columnists like Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and Maureen Dowd were marginalized, with far fewer people reading their articles.

The Times owners did not get the Web. They didn’t understand the effect of search engines and broad distribution on advertising and other “passive” revenue sources.

The Times article explains that they didn’t misunderstand, but it was the Web that changed:

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

“What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others.”

The Los Angeles Times tried a similar model in 2005, charging for access to its arts section, but quickly dropped it after experiencing a sharp decline in Web traffic. We can expect to see newspapers using this example to continue to move into the world of free information.

14 thoughts on “New York Times Figures Out the Web: It’s Free!”

  1. “What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” Ms. Schiller said.

    We at were laughing at them two years ago when they implemented the pay section — we certainly anticipated this apparently sudden “explosion.” Not that there was much to anticipate, seeing as that’s how the internet was already.

    Yet another lesson we are sick of learning: being right isn’t necessarily lucrative.

    1. BugMeNot is fantastic. it’s a great way to circumvent the annoying registration process that many sites (particularly “news” sites such as the Times) require in order to track your every move on their pages.

  2. After the lead up to the Iraq war and all the cheerleader parroting they were doing for ChimpCO they should pull in the shingle and fold up the tents. Disgusting.

  3. I kind wish they keep it for pay only. It was nice not to hear Thomas Friedman’s name being mentioned by the punditry class or politicians. It seems these guys – while evil – aren’t stupid to pay to read his blather.

  4. Maureen Dowd’s pip-squeakey always works to the advantage of the Republicans – To borrow some argot from the neocons, she is ‘subjectively’ “progressive, but ‘objectively’ pro-Chimperor.

    These are all established “brands” – so a walking and talking goiter like Tom Friedman does not really have to worry about immediate impact of free market web competition.
    Nevertheless – going forward, the web based model makes Friedmans and MoDos less likely.

  5. EG – Those descriptions we used above are perhaps regretable – first commenting errors, so we wish to take them back and scale down. Just riffing off some comments above.

  6. It’s a paper in decline. Maybe their web traffic is down because they have ceased being a trustworthy news source for really important subjects such as the war, and show their bias on Israel. Thomas Freedom-fries for one is a useless bag o’ wind.

  7. I sometimes get the Sunday edition of the Times. I like the bulky papery feel of it and the bold gothic of the flagstaff. I like the high ratio of print to paper, which gives the reader a rare aesthetic experience, akin to running your hand across a journalistic Talmud or Guttenberg Bible. One can stick it under one’s arm, take it to a coffee shop and fantasize that we are still living, if not in the days of H.L. Menken, at least of Walter Lippman. Of course the contents these days are seldom more than rubbish, but even as rubbish the paper edition has its uses for wrapping, shredding, and being made into paper mache. Unfortunately, peeling off the Time’s palpable presence leaves us with nothing but the bitter taste of faux liberal and neoconservative opinion…rather like biting into the core of a very Big, and very green, Apple.

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