The New York Times reports today (Times to End Charges on Web Site) that it will end its Times Select subscription service at midnight Tuesday. It will also provide free access to archives for the past 20 years and from 1851 to 1922.
“The newspaper said the TimesSelect project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers â€” out of 787,000 over all â€” and generating about $10 million a year in revenue. â€œBut our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,â€ said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.”
The reason? Google. Well, more accurately, Internet search engines. Whether you are they Grey Lady or a simple research blog, most of your readers come to you via a search. If key content can’t be searched, you lose visitors and you lose online ad revenue.
“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 NYtimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to gain 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. â€œWhat wasnâ€™t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,â€ Ms. Schiller said.”
The Times gave it a good try and it’s very significant that they decided that it was not working. There still is a lot of uncertainty in what are workable MSM business models for the future. While I’m not expert in this area, I have to wonder if the Wall Street Journal will be next.