Marketplace Scratch Pad

NY Times to become public radio?

Scott Jagow May 15, 2009

In the next month or so, the New York Times is expected to make a decision about how it will charge people for content. At a meeting this week, Times’ executive editor Bill Keller told staff that two proposals are at the top of the list.

One idea is a “meter” system. Readers could roam freely until they hit a predetermined limit, based on word count or page views. After that, the meter would start running. This sounds tricky. From the New York Observer:

If the word-count limit or page-view limit is set too low, it could chase readers off, compromising traffic and advertising revenue. Keller said the site presently makes “a lot, a lot of money” from digital advertising–though he wouldn’t specify how much–and that executives at the paper believe it is “substantially more” than The Wall Street Journal presently makes on a subscription-based pay model. On the other hand, he said, set these bars too high and there will be little improvement in revenue.

So, why not just focus on generating more of this highly-profitable digital advertising? The second proposal will sound very familiar to listeners of public radio.

In this model, readers pledge money to the site and are invited into a “New York Times community.” You write a check, you get a baseball cap or a T-shirt, an invite to Times event, or perhaps, like The Economist, access to specialized content on the Web. He said he wouldn’t even be opposed to offering a donor access to a Page One editorial meeting as long as it doesn’t affect the paper competitively.

How about lunch with Paul Krugman?

The biggest problem with this idea is that the Times is a for-profit company. Public radio is non-profit. Are people going to donate money to a company with shareholders?

Well, there is talk that if David Geffen did buy the Times, he would make it a non-profit.

Very interesting.

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