New York Times Calls Free Brigade’s Bluff

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Imagine walking into your dentist’s office and seeing a flat panel monitor in the waiting room…

The 52-inch beauty rotated a variety of ads on various toothy products while you waited. One showed a really cool new electric toothbrush. Another boasted cool new disposable waterless toothbrush/toothpaste combo kits. You glance at them here and there, then the receptionist calls your name and off you go for a cleaning.

Thirty minutes later to return to the front desk to pay your $50 and be on your way.

Six months later, you return for another cleaning. This time, the dentist’s office has added a second screen to the cleaning room. It’s starting to feel a bit unseemly, but the service is still great, so you deal with it. When you return to the front desk, the receptionist asks you for $25.

Why not $50? You ask.

Because, she says, the advertisers on the TVs are paying us, so now we can charge you less.

Sweet! You proclaim, slapping down $25 and wandering out.

Six more months pass and, upon arriving for your cleaning, you expect to pay $25. Seated in the dental chair, you notice, added to the two screens, the hygienist is wearing scrubs with the logo of a particular toothpaste emblazoned on them. It’s a bit odd, you mention. I thought so, too, she says.

But, now our services are free, because our sponsors are paying the tab.

Something about the whole sponsored dentistry thing bugs you, but it’s the best dentist in town and now it’s free. So, you deal with it.

A few more years pass, you’re still getting premium dental care, without paying a dime. You’ve come to accept the notion that top notch service is and should be free. And, in order to compete, all the other dentists in town have changed to a sponsored model that allows the patients to come free. Actually, not all. Some tried and went out of business, because their practices weren’t large enough to get big ad dollars.

Everywhere you go, it’s on someone else’s dime.

Then, something odd happens…

You show up to the dentist for a cleaning and notice there’s only one screen and the scrubs are back to plain old dentist sea-foam green. Before you go into the office, the receptionist says, Listen, I hope it’s okay, but the whole sponsored dentistry model didn’t really work, so we need to start charging you for visits again.

What?! You proclaim. Why should I pay you, when every other dentist in town is free? How dare you think you have the right to charge ME money for the value you provide?

I’m outta here!

Now, swap your dentist for…The New York Times.

Over a period of decades, the Times became one of the most trusted and valued sources of journalism in the world. So valued, people willingly paid good money every day to enjoy the content.

Then, the internet was born. And, it seemed everyone was doing the free thing. The Times had to make a call and, after a number of experiments, decided to go free. Just like the dentists. Relying solely on ad dollars to survive. And, after years of training their readers to expect to pay, in the blink of an eye, they re-trained them to expect what they offered for free.

But, it didn’t work…

Today, the Times announced that after delivering one of the most valuable online news and journalism resources on the planet for free for years, after causing countless others to go free in a futile attempt to compete, they’re now reverting back to a paid model. Because the sponsorships don’t cover their costs.

Problem is, they’ve spent the last decade meticulously patterning their readers to believe great news SHOULD cost nothing.

They’ve taken a product that took decades to build a monetary value around and in a few short years reprogrammed 3 generations of readers to expect something for nothing. To expect somebody else to foot the bill in exchange for us having to develop the habit of ignoring that somebody else’s ads.

Some might say, The Times made their bed, now they have to lie in it.

Problem is, they DO provide value. Value worth paying for. Value we don’t want to go away.

Their mistake was not in failing to give us something extraordinary, but rather in training us to believe it was economically valueless

Today, they owned up to the fact that the model they created is and always was broken. It’s unsustainable. Somebody always has to pay for great content. The sponsors can’t do it anymore. And, truth be told, they never could. Which puts the value question squarely back in the laps of the readers. The ultimate consumers. Us.

Can they reset our expectations on a mass level?

Can they retrain us to re-associate extraordinary content creation with value we’re willing to pay for?

Because, if they can’t, that content does not inevitably just continue on. It goes away. And, we all lose.

Despite the ballyhoo of the Free Brigade…there is no free.

If I buy a gorgeous painting, I expect to pay. If I order a great book, I expect to pay. If I buy a song on iTunes, I expect to pay. And, the fact that each might also come bundled with an ad or insertion that promotes somebody else’s stuff doesn’t nullify the net value I get from the painting, book or song.

Nor does the fact that the cost of delivery rounds close to zero negate the fact that the cost of creation was great.

Somebody always pays somewhere in the chain.

For a long time, it’s been someone else.

So, when’s our turn?

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54 responses

54 responses to “New York Times Calls Free Brigade’s Bluff”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields and TwittyBean, Santi Chacon. Santi Chacon said: Someone Always Pays: Imagine walking into your dentist’s office and seeing a flat panel monitor in the waiting roo… […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by jonathanfields: Someone Always Pays…

  3. Adam says:

    Just a thought here, but I recall reading an article a few months back (can’t remember where) that was talking about the death of print newspapers. One of the prime datapoints in this article was the fact that the price of the paper to the customer didn’t even cover the cost of the newsprint it took to print it.

    Essentially, the print papers were working on covering the remainder of their costs and any profits from advertising. And in order for that to be successful, they needed to be in a large enough market to support/justify the advertising dollars they needed.

    So, let’s then remove that from the issue. You now go down to just bandwidth and the cost of actually producing the news (salaries, etc.). And, especially with the reach and reputation of the Times, they can reach a global audience, especially when you add in the Interational Herald Tribune.

    So the argument is, basically opening up our already paid-for news (prepared for the print edition) to a large number of people who likely wouldn’t pay for it otherwise (lots of other news sites, many with similar reputations), and able to get thousands of extra pageviews and both increase ad revenue and increase the number of people seeing our news and thus raising our reputation/profile, isn’t enough of an argument, and instead, we’ll charge for it?

    I’m assuming they’ve done the numbers, that the subscription fees they’ll charge will offset the large number of ad views they’ll lose, but it still seems like this is, well, less than demonstrative of sound business strategy.

  4. Great post – the old cliche ‘no such thing as a free lunch’ applies just as well in the 21st Century as it did in the 20th, you just have a broader choice of what price you pay. Eventually people will work out that sometimes not paying cash works out more expensive (for all concerned)… and that’s when the model breaks.

  5. Laura Roeder says:

    Wow Jonathan, this post was an incredible wake up call for me.

    Especially in our little social media world, people are obsessed with giving away value. God forbid we be so gauche as to charge something! I’m not saying that’s a bad model – I think it can be a really successful marketing tool to get people in the door. But we do really have to be careful that we don’t train our customers out of business. There IS such a thing as too much free.

  6. Jeff says:

    I subscribed to the Sunday times years ago and it’s still the only thing I don’t read online.


    A) I was worried they were going under

    but B) Because it provides absolutely massive value.

    Good for them going back to charging for the hard work they do – frankly, I’d rather know my reporting is objective and have to pay a few bucks a week for it. (Stipulation: unless they fill it with Page 2 girls and celebrity news to get more people to buy it)

  7. Mike CJ says:

    I think what NYT has done is fantastic news for writers everywhere, and suspect they will be the first of many who take this step.

  8. Jeffrey Tang says:

    Here’s the problem, though. It’s not that the NYT doesn’t have value. It does. But to many (most?) people, the NYT isn’t remarkable. It doesn’t seem -that- much different than other news sources, especially with so many news aggregators out there. So the question isn’t whether the NYT’s reporting has value, it’s whether they have a unique enough value to pull people away from free sources of news. I’m not so sure they do.

    Traditional news sources also face competition from smaller sources who, unlike massive news organizations, -can- thrive on an advertising revenue model. A small group of journalists can create a pretty nice living for themselves on ad revenue, so there’s not as much need to switch to a paid model.

    Now, I’m not saying that no one will pay to receive the NYT. Many people will. But many people won’t – and many of those wouldn’t care if they get their news from the NYT or not.

  9. Jeffrey Tang says:

    (Sorry for the double comment; hit the button by accident.)

    In your dentist example, the patient asks: “Why should I pay you, when every other dentist in town is free?”

    Why indeed – unless that particular dentist (or newspaper) is just that much better or different than all the others?

    My girlfriend studied journalism at Northwestern (considered one of the best journalism schools in the country). I bring this up to make a point: in J-school they spend a lot of time teaching students the “finer points” of journalism. But these finer points don’t actually make for better news in the eyes of the viewer/reader – at least not in a way that the viewer or reader will notice. In my opinion, journalism is too often taught as a way to please other journalists, when the consumer couldn’t care less.

    To make an impression on consumers (and thus gain the power to command money in a world of “free”), news organizations need to stop writing for each other and do things that consumers will actually notice and appreciate.

  10. Check out this comment I found on a Reuters article covering this story. If you agree with Jonathan at all, this’ll make your blood boil:

    “Are they serious? Charging people for the same news that a thousand other online news links offer for free. This is yet another example of a horrible business decision made by a monolithic “old guard” that still sits in power throughout the rapidly decaying paper/analog news industry. The board of Hudsucker Industries comes to mind. The future of online content has been revealed by the true captains of internet industry, The word is FREE, FREE, FREE. Offer Free content and services to the masses and let the businesses who want to reach those masses pay the cost. […] The point is that as long as pinstriped myopic octogenarians run this industry, it will continue on its self imposed path toward obsolescence.”

    Jonathan, I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I have to say that on the subject of free content, I really, really hope to God that you are right. I am a musician (I write, I record, and I perform live) and a victory by the free brigade would mean certain death to much of my well-being.

    The problem is exactly as you state it – consumers, like the one who made the comment above, have been taught that high-quality content ought to be free. The problem that the New York Times faces is that they absolutely cannot re-train the public on this matter on their own. The way I see it, one of two things is going to happen. First scenario: the whole industry is going to follow suit and start charging for content, and consumers will complain for a while but in the end the industry will be able to continue to produce quality content. Second scenario: the industry ignores the actions of the New York Times, the public retains its Free Brigade mindset, and the Times goes belly-up. I really, really hate to think about the eventual logical extension of the latter scenario.

  11. Scott Webb says:

    I personally like the way Brian Clark does a lot of his work. His Free is so freaking SMART. It’s so far from free. If you don’t understand, go check out any of his free reports.

    So smart.

    This is an awesome post and great use of the dentist to pull me in.

  12. Nicely done – great post on an important subject with a cool concept.

    I think the free thing is really starting to show some cracks, and things are likely to get weird for a bit as a result (not that they haven’t been weird lately or anything) – but just possibly, if enough clever people chink away at it, what comes out of this particular econo-evolutionary process when the dust settles MIGHT just be a decent and sustainable model that gives everyone what they want and need – consumers and content creators alike.

    Goodness knows we in the music industry are crying out for a workable solution…

  13. Yep. I’m delivering stupendous content, courtesy of my savings account.

    Now that I think about it…

    I would love to get, and paid a lot, for what I know how to do.

    Maybe the Times can retrain readers?

  14. Felix says:

    Maybe it is just the time for some adjustments and innovation. I do think, that more and more advertising money will be moved over to the net in the upcoming years. The problem is, that the ad-money moves slower than the customers which have already arrived.

  15. Andy Hayes says:

    What an awesome article. Really loved the dentist analogy which brought home the arguments.

    Bravo Jonathan. Keeping it real, 365 days a year…

  16. Peter Mis says:


    Thanks for the excellent post.

    I think what we are seeing is a market correcting itself. We’ve witnessed a dramatic swing in the pay-to-free content pendulum over the past few years. The extreme of free content is just not a sustainable business model for the Times, so now the pendulum is swinging back to the middle. As a consumer, free content is always great, but as an artist/writer/business owner free content will mean limited or no content at some point.

    It is difficult to start charging for what we’ve all been used to getting for free. The paid content advocates NEED the Times experiment to work, as that will readjust consumers expectations accordingly. After a period of complaining, consumers will get on board with paid content. That will open the doors for all lesser brands of media to begin charging for their content as well. The readjusted expectations will also allow musicians and other artists to again be financially compensated for their work.

    That makes for a healthy and vibrant business environment for all of us.


  17. Isn’t this what Rupert Murdoch has being saying that he’ll do. And he also told Google to stop indexing his pages in their search engines. It’s going to be very interesting over the next decade.

    Jonathan, what are you suggesting here for bloggers? Still offer free content, but sell on top of that?

    • Milo says:

      Yes, Rupert Murdoch wants all of his News International websites to charge for content – however in the UK he has the problem that the BBC, which is publicly-funded, rightly gives tons of value for free away online (and obviously gets a huge audience). Until that is changed, he is going to have a tough time making that model work.

      Murdoch of course has a huge amount of political power and is currently backing the leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron who is likely to be the next Prime Minister – it’s possible that Cameron could heavily cut the BBC’s resources in order to keep Murdoch’s backing.

      • Jonathan Fields says:

        Interesting point, Milo, I actually think the BBC news and website are amazing sources of news. But, the basic tenet still holds true. Somebody always pays. The BBC is publicly funded, meaning folks in the UK already pay for it, they just don’t have the choice to opt out, even if you never avail yourself of it.

        Which brings up another really interesting question. Does it bother you at all you that you are paying the license fee to create content that I then get for free? Not trying to be an idiot, I’m genuinely curious.

        • Alex says:

          Since I’m English I’ll answer that!

          The BBC is funded by a Licence that TV owners pay for annually. The licence pays for all BBC output TV, Radio and Internet. I don’t have a TV so I get BBC Radio (playing at present in the background) and websites free too.

          Whether the licence covers the BBC expenditure I don’t know, perhaps general taxation contributes too.

          Let me draw a parallel. My tax contributes to a school system and university system and I have no children, so do I feel resentful?

          Not in the least – I would like more spent on the education of these kids actually.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Brian Clark of Copyblogger is the posterboy for how bloggers should do it. Go read him now!

  18. Mick Morris says:

    Jonathon, this a piece of pure logic…

    I am not opposed to a model of paying for my news, however

    The reason your paper copy of your favourite newspaper is so cheap is because it is subsidised by the colossal amounts of advertising and I accept that that is the cost of the newspaper being so cheap.. however, I get to choose what advertisements I pay any attention to and more often than not pay the vast majority of advertisements very little attention.

    In the delivery of a free model of online news, the same principle has applied, it has been free because it has been subsidised by the advertising revenue, it is loaded with advertisements, and the really bad part is.. the pop up type ads on news sites, with sound and all sorts of other distractions, everyone of them seems to have their close icon in a different part of the screen, so you cannot ignore the advertising, they force it upon you and require you to take action to ignore the advertisement.

    I think, if they want to charge me then they are contracting a service to me (much like your dentist) so if they want me to pay for the service they should provide exactly the service that I want, and that is NEWS CONTENT WITHOUT THE POP UP ANNOYING ADVERTISING. If they are not prepared to deliver this model, tailored to the customers need, then they should continue to provide the free version with the annoying pop ups and I will accept this as the cost of doing business in a free model.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Interesting point, Mick. But…just like you learned to ignore the ads in print, a bunch of research now shows that most people completely tune out the ads online, too. As for the pop-up issue, easy fix, just click the setting on your browser to block pop-ups and they’ll go away. And, depending on the browser you use, I even know many people who block all ads on all sites.

  19. Walt Goshert says:

    Google has tons of FREE stuff (information and how to USE information)… to sell advertising.

    Who sifts and sorts the information, regardless of who creates it?


    Is Google gonna stop giving away FREE tools anytime soon?


    Humm… to paraphrase the sage, Newman:

    “When you control the Internet, you control… INFORMATION.”

    Good luck with charging nickel and dime FEES for info and services. Look how well that’s working for banks.

    P.S.— Nothing’s FREE. But, as Scott Webb pointed out about Brian Clark… SMART FREE makes you money.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Walt – two thoughts.

      One, it IS working right now for premium news outlets like the Wall Street Journal.

      Two, the google analogy doesn’t really work on a number of levels, one being they’re not a content provider

      Three, Brian is a brilliant marketer and a friend, but he’s already doing what the NYT now wants to do, give away a certain volume of high-value information and sell other high-value information to that same market.

      • Walt Goshert says:


        I agree… The WSJ model works because it’s specialized financial news, different than aggregated AP and wire service.

        Sorry I didn’t elaborate on my reference to Google. Google has set the FREE line model online. While not a Content originator, they sure control the access to the content.

        NYT should watch and listen to Brian and Google. Give away lots of FREE stuff, either actual content or tools to access the content before asking for your cash. Breadcrumb ’em with info rather than Pay Wall threats. I don’t remember WSJ making a big deal about Pay-Walling. I recall them testing it and tweaking it, and evolving into a Pay Wall. (You still see some WSJ content)

        Heck, I already pay for NYT content. I’ve bought blink, The Tipping Point, The World is Flat… I’d probably pay a couple bucks to get bleeding edge insights from Gladwell and Friedman.

        • Jonathan Fields says:

          It’s a good point about WSJ having a very specialized focus. I think one thing that let them set up a paywall has been the fact that a huge number of people feel they need access to the WSJ information to both make money and stay in the loop in their worlds. And, you’re right, as a number of others have said, there’s a bunch of less than unique or stellar content on NYT these days, but there is also still a ton of very good, very unique content that has been good enough for people to pay for for many decades.

          Last thought, from the little that’s been released, it does seem NYT will be following Brian’s lead and still keeping s solid chunk of content free, while paywalling other. The interesting thing will be to see what exactly gets paywalled and why.

          • Michael Roth says:


            But if you look at the WSJ’s financials, they really are not making a go of it (hence the reason they got bought out).

            As a reader of the FT, I think there model works, but an important addition to it would be commentary and analysis.


  20. Jonathan:

    Ultimately it is up for people to decide if it is worth paying for NY Times. If the information they provide is valuable enough and if the readers won’t want to have that taken away, then they will pay.

    For example, even if Google started charging for some of their services, I would not mind paying for them. Why? Because they are awesome and add tons of value to my life. Of course, I would be more selective as to what I use, but never the less, I would not mind.

    I know you that you mentioned that Google and NY Times is not comparable, because they operate on two different models, but the point remains the same – they both provide value worth paying for.


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, they both provide value, but the analogy also breaks down because the business models are radically different.

  21. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Love the analogy of the dentist.

    Just by coincidence (if you believe in coincidences) this morning I went to the website of our local newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer. I wanted to find some information and possible articles from 1976. I learned that while the current newspaper information was free, I would have to pay to recover past information.

    Thought that was interesting. The old newspaper data would bring in more cash than the current information.

    Hope this makes sense.

  22. Carol B. says:

    Content of the NYT news and editorial sections has not been “quality” journalism for a few years now. Too much opinion, too little fact-checking. Other nationally-known news organizations have delivered well. While New Yorkers may be willing to pay for local-oriented information or entertainment content, I think the NYT will find few online subscribers outside of their local audience.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      No doubt, many will debate the quality of the journalism on NYT’s website, BUT the truth is in the traffic. Quantcast puts their visits at more than 90 million a month, so SOMEbody thinks there’s something worth reading. 🙂

  23. I was really surprised to have to read down to the last comment to see an opinion (like mine) that the NYT isn’t actually an example of quality journalism.
    Not even close.
    They have missed the ball on all the big stories for more than a decade.
    You wouldn’t find me paying for that content at all. And I think that many people outside the states would feel the same.

    Here in Spain all the newspapers offer something more, with the paper.
    It’s quite an incredible model, and I don’t quite know how they do it but you get a book, or a DVD or something else with the paper.
    I only buy my left wing paper on Fridays and Sundays because on Friday it comes with a movie, (usually a high quality independent type, awarded the jurors prize in Cannes and things like that) and on Sunday a documentary, such as the Earth series from the BBC or last Sunday “Voyage of the Emperor” or “Travelling Birds” etc.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Scott, the challenge here is in mixing print with online. Both are struggling and have different, though interdependent models. If you want to talk about offline, the NYT actually has really good local and special section coverage that’s kept millions of people buying the print Sunday Times for a very long time. Much of that never makes it’s way over to your part of the world.

  24. Great article Jonathan,

    I think what we’ll see is a big culling of mediocre and un-innovative journalists… as the smart ones look at new platforms to get published, recognised and remunerated.

    Carol B (above) says the NYT has become more opinion focused, with less fact-checking. Interestingly enough, the blogging revolution revolves around opinion focused coverage, analysis and interpretation.

    My guess is that a couple of journalists (with opinions to share and outrageous personalities) will do very well as bloggers (Dan Lyons?).

    The journalists focused on the golden “truth” and impartial reporting of “the facts” might find that their audience dries up.

    The concept of “make up your own mind” is fading away with the baby boomers. The internet has precipitated an age of “listen to me and my opinion!” instead.

    Even though the public’s eye is currently only on the free vs. paid debate, our concept of news is changing. Long term, this change will be what determines the success of old world institutions like the NYT… not pricing models.

    What this space.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Interesting add to the conversation, Peter. I think you’re right, the very concept of what news is is changing rapidly and that will play a major role in how this all unfolds

      • Kathleen says:

        I loved the article! I wonder as new requirements to pay unfold…to what extent has the blogging revolution impacted our expectation for free information? The idea goes that if we can hear it first from another source for free (whether it’s really confirmed as true yet or not), then why should we pay for the information. If one person is charging, there’s always someone else who’s willing to give it away, it seems these days. Personally, I believe the NYT has a reputation supporting a special brand of excellence in journalism (in my mind, similar to that of NPR, in my opinion). I support my local NPR affiliate, although it is offered “free” to listeners who tune in or visit their website, because I believe it is content worth paying for. If NYT continues to be a bar-setter when it comes to printed and online published news, then I can justify paying to support and continue benefiting from it. Come to think of it, I wondered if in their past they ever considered a “public” news format…hmm.

  25. Tiffany Dow says:

    Jonathan it’s great that you narrated the freebie process the NYT went through from start to finish. Marketers aside, the average consumer will balk at being shoved back and forth from one extreme to another.

    The NYT is bound to suffer from this target audience. What they should have done is stayed a paid publication but given something free to widen their readership if that was the goal.

    Now that they’re forced to recoup their losses it seems only fair that they would make an amends to the public and give them something free when they make a paid subscription.

    It’s like training a dog not to go on the carpet but wait at the door and once he learns that, you spank him for it and say, “No, go on the carpet!” You’re confusing them.

    You almost seemed to point the finger at the consumer for being selfish in expecting something for nothing, but it’s human nature to not want to accept change (especially when it negatively impacts them). If the public’s willing to pay again, the NYT needs to be willing to soften the blow.

  26. Taylor says:

    The point is not whether the NY Times provides value. Of course it does. The point is whether they provide significantly more value than one of the FREE options. In my opinion they don’t. In fact, I never even visit their website. I go to CNN, because news seems to be there faster than it is anywhere else most of the time.

    So unless they start providing SIGNIFICANTLY more value than the free options, I don’t see why people would be willing to pay for them. (Especially in this economy.)

    Some die hard fans will, of course. But will the masses? I guess we will see.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Thing is, just because YOU don’t find value doesn’t mean OTHERS don’t. NYT reach goes far beyond “some die hard fans.” As I mentioned in an earlier comment, some 15-20 millions visitors and 90 million visits a month (according to quantcast) are pretty strong evidence that a massive audience does provide value and they’ll have to re-decide just how much value in the very near future.

      • Taylor says:

        Yes, but how many people will see ENOUGH value to pay. Just because 1 million people download a coupon for a free sandwich at a particular restaurant doesn’t mean they would continue to eat there when they had to pay for it. Taco Bell was offering coupons for a free taco recently, and I got one. I actually don’t even like Taco Bell, but I got one of the free tacos because money is tight and it was free food. I wouldn’t go back now that I have to pay for it, but I would go every day if the tacos were free.

  27. Jonathan Fields says:

    Interesting addition – Just read Fred Wilson’s post on how FT uses a freemium model and how NYT might consider a similar strategy. It’s an interesting approach that sidesteps the impossible task of figuring out how to designate certain content worthy of pay and other content not.

    Give it a read –

  28. Bravo NYT and anyone else finally drawing a line in the sand. I’m a huge believer of trading value for value and I really believe that most people wanting things for free wouldn’t pay for them anyway. Most normal people understand that nothing is free to produce and as such, are willing to pay for the value that you provide.

    The question then becomes, do you provide enough value to charge for your product?

  29. Farouk says:

    great post:)

  30. Karilee says:

    The currency of the web is attention, but here’s the kicker: your attention requires your time, and there’s a limited supply of that. Unless your time is worth nothing to you, at some point it’s “cheaper” to pay cash for what you need.

    Therefore, the best sources of the information that solve your problems, the ones that aggregate and concentrate the answers you want, or those that best fit the niche you’re querying, will always be worth paying money for IF their content saves you time over gathering poorer information from many other sources. If the NYT can be one of the best sources of objective news, rather than sensationalist reporting, I think they’ll do fine. There’s too much pap out there. It looks like their frequent visitor system will allow them to prove their quality to the people who appreciate their stuff.

    My personal approach is to provide both free and paid content. I provide free information/lessons on how to market your small business yourself, with an emphasis on the web. I also provide products that allow clients to pay me to do the work, if they don’t want to take the time to learn the things I’ve learned to allow me to do this effectively. I structure it so they can dump the more technical stuff on me, and do the more accessible parts themselves, if they wish.

    The free content provides real value to visitors who may not have the money to buy my paid products, and genuinely helps them build their businesses. I believe the trust that builds will bring many of them back later, when they have more money than time.

  31. Hugh says:

    Say it ain’t so, Jonathan! I read about the possibility of NYT doing this, but I didn’t think it would happen. NYT’s website is usually the first place I go to get my news and I do agree that the paper has tremendous value to me. However, for me, it comes down to substitute products. NYT is going to have a lot of trouble at the beginning because there are so many substitute products – other news cites, blogs, Twitter, zines, radio, etc… As long as there are reliable substitutes, I won’t be paying for NYT content. However, as more news sources switch to pay-to-read models, I may find myself back at NYT.

  32. […] for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet BoxAround the same time I shared my thoughts on the New York Times’ decision to put up a paywall last week, Fred Wilson shared his thoughts: I like the subscription model the FT (Financial Times) […]

  33. Nikki says:

    I suppose the success will depend on how many people who visited truly valued something extra that they brought to the table that other sites do not have, and how many of those people might have made them money through advertising or another means.

    My personal opinion is no, I never saw anything there that I couldn’t get elsewhere. I read the news and that’s about it. I don’t care what their opinion on the news is.
    Since they’re going to a paid model, I stopped bothering to follow them on Twitter or visit the site at all. I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
    Could they have made money from me? Not with the typical ads used these days. Ads today are annoying and blocked as much as possible. Might they have created additional content I would have paid for — non-news content? Possibly. We’ll never know, as I won’t be going back.

    A bookstore doesn’t charge you to walk in the door. Some let you browse the books and magazines. Heck, the Border’s over here has chairs and a reading spot. All free. Plenty to buy and they obviously sell plenty. The internet is more like a bookstore than a dentist’s office, I think.

    When I buy something at Borders, there is a trust there. When I see online ads next to stories, I dismiss them immediately because they’re all garbage. If sites stopped using so much deceptive, annoying advertising and sold their own products and services, I think a lot more people would buy.

  34. roleta says:

    Sometimes it’s really that simple, isn’t it? I feel a little stupid for not thinking of this myself/earlier, though.

  35. […] said it in my recent posts on the NY Times putting up a paywall, bloggers getting paid for their content, my take on the errant ways of the free brigade and plenty […]

  36. As a second-year dental student, I couldn’t help but share my opinion on your “advertising-supported dentistry model.”

    The reason there are so many bloggers out there providing free content is because people like to write. Most of the bloggers find it enjoyable. Also, there are really no barriers to entry. It is free for anyone to start a blog on wordpress, blogger, typepad, etc. Internet access is available for free as well at most any public library.

    Equating this to dentistry is rather ridiculous. After four years of dental school, I will have roughly $328,000 in student loans to pay back. While I find dentistry interesting and stimulating, it is hard work. No dentist would be able to stay in business by using a strictly advertising-supported model. However, there are many bloggers that can do this.

    I think there is something about creating content (either written or visual such as a photographer) that people enjoy and label as hobbies. As long as there are individuals that keep putting out quality content for little to no compensation, I think it will be harder and harder for the professional writers to make a serious living. I think the same is true for photography. There are many amateur photographers posting thousands of photos each day online for others to freely use. This is making many professional photographers’ jobs irrelevant.

  37. […] This article by Jonathan Fields is an interesting take on the latest developments, and continues the ongoing debate around ‘Free’ which Chris Anderson’s book recently sparked off. Whether you’re talking about newspapers, music, or any kind of creative endeavour, it’s a fascinating debate because no one really knows how things will develop yet. […]

  38. […] This article by Jonathan Fields is an interesting take on the latest developments, and continues the ongoing debate around ‘Free’ which Chris Anderson’s book recently sparked off. Whether you’re talking about newspapers, music, or any kind of creative endeavour, it’s a fascinating debate because no one really knows how things will develop yet. […]