NYT settles it: ad-supported content wins

tn_megaphone.jpg If the nation’s newspaper of record can’t enforce charges, who can?

The New York Times has ended its two-year experiment in attempting to charge for some web content, explaining in an article  that the $10 million it earned in annual subscrition revenues paled alongside the potetential for advertising.  The article said:

“In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.”

I hope this act silences once and for all the King Canutes of Content who, like that ancient Danish king who failed to stop the tides, believe that it is somehow within the power of information media to charge for their wares. I am thinking in particular of my good but misguided friend David Lazarus, whose wrong-headedness in this regard I never publicly criticized whilst he was my colleague at the largest newspaper in Northern California. However insofar as David recently transferred his byline to Smog Town, I delight in reprising the March 14 column in which he writes:

“It’s time for newspapers to stop giving away the store. We as an industry need to start charging for — or at the very least controlling — use of our products online. “

 Of course it’s not time, not unless we forget how the mass audience newspaper was born about a century ago when the rapid offset press allowed the press barons of that era, notably Pulitzer and Hearst, to drop the price of the paper to the penny that the urban worker could afford. So nowadays information and entertainment increasingly flow through the web — the most efficient mechanism for price comparison yet invented – the price of mass consumption content must  reach zero.

So I hope the Times argument settles the “to charge or not to charge” debate so we can begin wondering if, in a winner take all world, will the serious news producers be limited to a big three situation, like steel, autos, computers or other mature market; and if so what this will portend for the breadth of coverage and the fate of the lesser news outlets.