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Will bloggers profit if newspapers charge?

The New York Times is going to start charging for access. They seem to have settled on a "metered" system, in which folks will get to read a couple of articles each month for free, but have to purchase unlimited access. This is how the Financial Times works, and also, some porn sites (or so I've been told). Which is not to say it isn't a good model!

I'd guess -- and this is based on no inside information whatsoever -- that it will be much easier for The Washington Post, The L.A. Times and other major papers to go behind some sort of pay wall if the New York Times leaps first. At this point, newspapers are desperate enough for long-term revenue that they're probably willing to sacrifice short-term positioning. And if The New York Times goes, then a bunch of others go. The Times has the influence and readership to establish a new norm -- and this is a norm that papers want established.

But what to do about blogs? Already, much of what blogs do is summarize, quote or otherwise relay information that's tucked inside a long newspaper story that busy readers don't have time to find or read. This will increase that market: A blogger with a few subscriptions can distill the information from the newspapers that readers don't have subscriptions to. Bloggers move from providing more efficient information to offering access to information. A black market for news, in a sense.

Newspaper revenue might go up under this strategy, but so, I'd guess, will the relative market share of big blogs that are good at aggregation. Newspapers could try to sue them, but that will be difficult if the blogs are careful, and it could be counterproductive for newspapers that want to have influence.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 20, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Journalism  
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Next: Is health-care reform stabilizing?


Series of random media comments on this:

1. Ezra Klein works at the wrong newspaper. The Washington Post largely blows, and not in a thousand years would I pay for the blowhard partisan garbage that emanates from about 95% of it. Same for my local paper, the LA Times except for different reason its not partisan its just content-free crap.

2. I paid for the TimesSelect, and will pay for the new pay wall for a simple reason. NY Times is the best newspaper in the world, and I hope in my lifetime they never go out of business, and a model of allowing customers to come into the grocery store and take all the food they want everyday is obviously unsustainable.

3. As far as blogs, I suspect traffic to blogs will increase assuming (as I do) that almost any online news source worth its salt will eventually find a model to extract money from its customers.

Its almost an accident that news was ever free online, and now the arduous process of changing the status quo has to be undertaken, what I wish we'd see is collusion, frankly.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | January 20, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

So the Washington Post is "blowhard partisan garbage", but the NY Times is the "best newspaper in the world".

I guess with that perspective you have to be viewing things from a reaalllyy far corner of the political spectrum.

Posted by: WEW72 | January 20, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

One of the major consequences of the pay wall will be to reduce the international influence of these newspapers. Just what they need.

Posted by: janinsanfran | January 20, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Bleh. People should be able to freely talk about what they want to talk about. That's what blogs are. That's what newspapers are, except it costs money to print & distribute. The Internet changes that, and publishing has yet to catch up.

"Reporting" is as useful - and problematic - as ever, regardless of who is doing it. "Reporters" are a very strange phenomenon, a product of the cost of publishing, and colonialism - the need to know what's going on "over there."

Oh how I long for a world where the people "over there" were just happy and able to talk about their lives, and if I wanted to hear about it I could read it on their blogs, or whatever.

Posted by: adam28 | January 20, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

There are a lot of great things about the Times, but their HCR reporting is not worth paying for.

Posted by: bmull | January 20, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

to think anyone of the newspapers would publish "items" not biased by their owners/money is quite naive. after the Times held out on the American spying/FISA and the "cadre" of writers (Brooks, Will) at the Post, how anyone would pay for such "thinking" is beyond me. i like various sections in each of these and all papers, but the newspapers are mere echo boxes of their corporate owners/money point of view.

Whatever pleases the corporate bottom line is all that matter to the Media, plain and simple. MONEY, not America

Posted by: BernardEckholdt | January 20, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

"There are a lot of great things about the Times, but their HCR reporting is not worth paying for."

I agree that the paper's coverage has left a lot to be desired. They had a very good business reporter who covered health insurance for a number of years but when the issue moved to political/congressional reporters, the paper's coverage degenerated into being nothing but a mouthpiece for Congress. It's been truly awful.

On the other hand, the Economix blog has had numerous articles about the economics of health care as well as details about how other countries organize care. As a nation, we would have been much better served if many of those articles had made it into the paper.

Posted by: Athena_news | January 21, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Nobody's going to pay the media to /control/ public access to information, even in a subscription model. We'd pay for the advantage of their time and resources spent hunting information, an agreement that they would seek to inform rather than deceive, and so on. They would make money as long as they could continue to be perceived as reliable, primary and current. It's even harder to decide which blogs to believe than which newspapers, and more time-consuming. (News is proclaimed, more than sought out, I think.)

That said, it wouldn't be hard to establish a "reading" subscription and a "quoting" subscription: that is, pay to be able to quote or paraphrase regularly, by item, month, site-hits, or portions of ad revenues. Perhaps some ingenious person could come up with a way to charge only for comments, op-eds or opinions! After all, the thing about the Internet is that attention is so much harder to get than (mis?)information.

Posted by: elizabethsqg | January 21, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

If there's one lesson to be learned from recent history it's how powerfully new things can happen when information is freely available.

The newspapers haven't really failed to learn this, but I agree they just can't figure our how to make money from it. This, even after Google showed that advertising (paid information) will gladly and profitably travel along with free information.

Raising the quality and extent of journalism to give us unimpeachably complete information doesn't seem to have occurred to any of the old school as a model to explore, sadly.

Posted by: rosshunter | January 21, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

The rules are the same for any business. Whatever your value proposition is, if you are going to charge a premium for it, you better be able to clearly differentiate it.

The commoditization of information is accelerating, and there is really nothing inherently exclusive about the NY Times' access to it or distribution of it that they can articulate in a message that says it's worth what they are going to charge.

Maybe I'm missing something that the Times' marketing folk can spin, but I see no clear differentiator at the Times, aside from their op-ed page, which the TimesSelect experiment showed could not succeed behind a paywall.

Posted by: Rick00 | January 21, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

@zeppelin003: Yeah, you're right. I remember the NY Times' critical scoops and skeptical reporting on Iraq's weapons program that helped change the political discussion about going to war in Iraq. Can you imagine what a disaster it would have been if we hadn't had the Times?

Posted by: Seriously2 | January 21, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

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