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Home » News

It’s not the price of news. It’s the price of everything else online

Submitted by on Monday, 24 January 2011 One Comment
It  sounds frivolous to compare the New York Times to a children's Web site and instant movie access, but those are the economic facts at my house.

Club Penguin: $12 a month - $6 per kid. I look at it as paying mob protection. I like that Club Penguin is moderated, and I like that its filters and humans sniff out violations, even when the violation was on Boots' account after an older "friend" who was using his sign-on deliberately dropped the f-bomb to get Boots in trouble. Boots learned a hard lesson, and I banned the "friend" from using the computer at our house.

Netflix: $10 a month for one DVD at a time and unlimited streaming.

The Times: $20 a month for its "digital bundle" that includes the formerly free iPad application or less than half that for Web-only access, according to the Wall Street Journal. Online readers will get a certain number of "free" pages a month before they're asked to subscribe.

My plan is to hope I don't hit the "free" ceiling, because I'll miss the Times when it's gone.  I don't rely on the site for breaking news, but it is one of my daily reads for coverage of more depth. The comments on the stories by and large are more articulate than the "fresh from the funny farm" fare that's common on most media sites.

But, still, I have to look at that $10 or $20 in comparison to the rest of my online spending. I visit the Times site for at most a half hour a day, usually not at all on weekends. A half hour is being generous. Usually it's closer to 15 minutes.

The guys, on the other hand, easily are on Club Penguin for more than two and a half hours a week. And that amount of time barely gets us through one Harry Potter movie on Netflix.

My cost-benefits analysis in this case comes down to a cost-time analysis. We spend far more time on the other two sites than we would on the Times, making the news outlet not worth it even at $10 a month.

I give the Times credit for trying to set what appears to its executives to be a "reasonable" fee rather than falling victim to the old argument that papers should be able to charge as much online as they do for print. It's going to be interesting, though, to see what happens to the almighty pageviews once the firewall goes up. The Times isn't as bad about playing that games as some, but it does split articles into multiple cyber "pages" in what is a transparent attempt to boost the pageviews for advertisers.

On one hand, I shouldn't matter in the least to many New York Times advertisers - I'm simply not in their market. But on the other, if Times ad reps have been selling online ads based on pageviews, advertisers are going to be understandably confused at the sudden backpedal. "Oh, I know we were saying that pageviews matter. But it turns out that they don't."

Actually, they never did. Engagement is what matters. It's a shame that usually the last place you can turn to on the Web for a sane discussion is a newspaper Web site. Comments from the lunatic fringe might bump the almighty pageviews, but they drive away just as many people.

So, unfortunately, will paywalls. The Times won't see as big a drop as if it'd gone to an all-paid system - $16.95 a month, Belo. Really? - but there will be a fall. It will be interesting to see if the paywall money is enough to make up for it.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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One Comment »

  • Genevieve said:

    I never understood the registration walls without giving something in return (ability to leave a comment or participate in the online community, register for a newsletter, enter a contest). Usually I hit a wall (free or paid) and leave.