Tuesday, May 17, 2005
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The NYT op-ed shakedown
I don't have a great deal to offer on the New York Times' decision to charge for some its content (including the op-ed page) starting in September that Virginia Postrel and Matthew Yglesias haven't already made.
I do, however, have a research question that I bet some communications grad student has written a paper about -- to what extent does having a fee-for-content regime inhibit a web site's popularity/traffic/links? For example, most people I know consider the reportage of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are papers of comparable quality (or maybe the Journal has a slight lead). However, the Times has an Alexa traffic rank of 107, while the Journal has a traffic rank of 540. Even USA Today, an inferior newspaper to the Journal, has a higher Alexa traffic rank. So it looks like free news sites attract a higher traffic level even if the quality of information is not as good.
I'm sure someone out there has done a more systematic study of this question. Please post a link to useful research if you can find it.
UPDATE: Hmm.... Mickey Kaus suggests that maybe I've been too hasty in judging the New York Times proposal.posted by Dan on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM
I can't speak to research on this topic, Dan, or to what goes into an Alexa ranking. It's a fair bet though that more people key into the Times not because it does better reporting than the WSJ but because it does more reporting on more subjects in each issue. And because it runs on weekends. And -- this is probably a secondary factor -- because Times columnists make frequent appearances in other media. And just possibly because while the Times editorial and Op-Ed pages are considerably more hackneyed and predictable than that of the Washington Post they are nowhere near as predictable as the WSJ's.posted by: Zathras on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
The Op-Ed pages of the WSJ are largely free, but the rest of the paper is paid. That could be another reason why the WSJ rank is lower than the NYT. But the WSJ may actually be making money online from the subs. I subscribe to them online.
I know the WSJ claims that theirs is the only editorial page that sells papers. However, online at least, that does not seem to be the case. There is a great deal of competition online from conservative blogs and sites, and the WSJ page does not stand out there.
I agree that the diversity of opinion on the Washington Post Op-Ed is far higher than in the NYTimes and the WSJ. Although the NYTimes now has one conservative (Tierney) and one mild conservative (Brooks) to counterbalance 2 flaming liberals (Krugman and Herbert), one maverick liberal (Friedman: pro Iraq war), one liberal-leaing weirdo (Dowd -- she attacks Bush, but some of us remember she attacked Clinton too).
I actually like reading Friedman, if he wouldn't repeat the same theme a dozen times. I also would like reading Krugman if he described some solid economic ideas instead of just attacking Bush every column. I cannot fathom why anyone would read Dowd or indeed most of the WSJ's op-eds.
posted by: erg on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
The Times has clearly discovered that the amount of papers they sell is inversely proportional to the number of people who read their op-eds. A wise financial decision.posted by: Mark Buehner on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
Dan, my own research areas are on more on the technical side of things, where usage payment mechanisms have long been discussed and architected.
That said, I do believe there is some research showing that micropayments do not inhibit the market for mobile content in Japan, for instance. These are facilitated by the fact that an incremental billing scheme is already in place for telecoms services. http://scholar.google.com/url?sa=U&q=http://www.japaninc.net/online/sc/master_thesis_as1.pdf is a Scandanavian look at business models for mobile phone content providers. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/iel5/8104/22410/01045931.pdf is from an IEEE conference around the same time (2001-2002). and this is from an ACM journal, also an examination of transaction models for online content sales: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=844340.844348&dl=portal&dl=ACM
None of these is quite on the specific topic you requested, but they do suggest the breadth of research origins re: payment for online content.posted by: Robin Burk on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
Well, here's an interesting 2002 paper specifically looking at consumer attitudes towards paying for news stories online: http://www.tukkk.fi/mediagroup/5WMEC%20PAPERS/Chyi.pdfposted by: Robin Burk on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
An interesting subject for a paper: how much the WSJ subscriptions increase from here through September, and how much of that is attributable to the NYTimes' announcement. Why by an iPod mini for $250 when, for $300, you can buy an iPod? Why buy the NYTimes op-ed page when, for $20 more, you can get the whole WSJ?
I started thinking about getting a WSJ subscription when the NYTimes began charging. But, if I'm definitely going to get a subscription, why wait until September?posted by: john jay on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
The WSJ has its (excellent) news section paid on the web, while most of its op-eds are free.
You can make your own judgement then on which content is actually considered to be worth paying for, and which is not.posted by: erg on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
You might want to go back and look at the Alexa rankings. Actually, it looks like they suggest an inverse relationship -- that is, the lower the Alexa ranking, the higher the traffic. The N.Y.Times is at 107 with a rate of traffic indicated by the graph at about "6000 daily reach per million," whereas USA Today has about a "4000 daily reach per million" and the WSJ about "1500 to 2000 daily reach per million." Thus it looks to me that in terms of traffic, NYT is first, USA Today is second, and WSJ is third -- suggesting, perhaps, free access is associated with higher traffic, even holding newspaper quality constant.posted by: Donald Douglas on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
Donald: That was in fact my point. I've added an explanatory sentence, though -- I simply assumed people understood the Alexa rankings.posted by: Dan Drezner on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
Do I understand correctly that the new subscription service applies only to the op-ed pages? Does this mean that normal news articles and book reviews remain free (at least until they're archived)?
This would be surprising, to say the least, because I'm only interested in some good articles like features, reviews and reportages rather than these weak op-eds.posted by: ab on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
Speaking as someone who has cited newspaper articles in online discussions, the advantage to free content is pretty obvious: the people you're discussing an issue with won't be persuaded by a 'buy a subscription' screen. I refer people to articles in the NYT and WaPo on a fairly regular basis... but not the WSJ, because most of the people I discuss things with are not subscribers.
Overall, my favorite model is The Economist's- some content is freely accessible, some is subscriber-only, and the archives are pay-only.
ps: the appeal of the iPod mini is pretty simple: when you music collection is less than 4GB in total, why pay for space you don't need?posted by: rosignol on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
Here's a good question for Robin Burk:
Since the NYT and similar " prestige" MSM outlets pride themselves not just in terms of their reporting but in driving policy debate - what is their " opportunity cost" in terms of influence lost by walling themselves off behind a subscription service ?
What kind of readers are they losing by doing that - strictly casual surfers or other " influencers" like serious bloggers ? I already shell out for access to the Economist archives and several research databases. I doubt if I'll kick in for the NYT in addition just to read Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman.posted by: mark safranski on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
ps: the appeal of the iPod mini is pretty simple: when you music collection is less than 4GB in total, why pay for space you don't need?
But even if your music collection is that small, you still can use the remaining disk space of the big iPod for other things, such as a backup of all your computer hard drive's data, etc.posted by: ab on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
posted by: mike d on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
...sorry, cut off. the above metric seems to indicate that the WSJ is massively underrepresented in the blogosphere, because it's behind a subscription wall. Interestingly, the CSM is massively overrepresented, in part for the same reason.posted by: mike d on 05.17.05 at 02:35 PM [permalink]
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