August 19, 2009

"The Paper That Doesn't Want to Be Free"

So reads the headline of an NYT article about the success of The Financial Times, which charges for access to its website, as does its main competitor The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the rest of the big newspapers are going down the toilet financially. Does this merely reflect the fact that rich businessmen read the two financial papers, while the NYT or LA Times serve broader and less wealthy audiences? The FT's CEO says that's nonsense:

"I sometimes think there's too much fatalism around -- people throwing up their hands and saying it's not possible for general publishers to charge," Mr. Ridding said. "I think it is possible, and necessary, for them to charge."

If the audience statistics provided by Quantcast are at all accurate, then the NYT's audience is hardly any different from that of the FT or the WSJ. Politically I'm sure they are, but not by age, race, having kids, household income, or education level. The only real difference is that the NYT's online readers are slightly more male than female, while the financial paper's readers are much more so. One-third of NYT readers belong to households that make over $100,000 a year -- if they managed to convert just the richer readers into paying customers, that alone would give them a larger paying audience than at the FT (the NYT's total online visitor size is 10.7 million, while the FT's is 2.7 million).

I've never heard anyone complain about the quality of the FT or WSJ tumbling downhill, which doesn't mean no one does, only that it's rare enough that I haven't heard it. But it's trivial to recall people lamenting how worse the NYT has been getting. Yet, if their sales strategy is one seemingly geared to 17 year-old nose-bleeding, retainer-wearing brats -- who feel entitled to freely download as many songs, movies, and video games as they please -- is it any wonder that the paper's quality should suffer? What kind of fucked up world is it where he who does not pay the piper calls the tune?


  1. the part at the end makes me wonder about China's long term economic viability in terms of research and development, considering they blatanly rip off entire lines of cars, appliances, software and use it...its going to be hard to convince people in a couple generations to not continue on with that mentality. ie: impossible

  2. "What kind of fucked up world is it where he who does not pay the piper calls the tune?"

    You got that right.

  3. The NYT probably could make more money by charging. The downside for the NYT is that it would mean that some other paper would become the most read paper in the world.

  4. But if the other papers are also going down the tubes (as they are), while the NYT starts making more money by charging, those others won't be around for long to serve as the most read papers. They'll have to start charging too.

    Then it's back to quality.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."