Upstairs, disconnected for years, is an old Western Electric wall phone. Dark green, the kind with a bell that woke that dead. Rotary dial. Stick a finger in a number, crank it over to the metal stop, and wait for it to return before doing it again with a different hole. In the center of the dial is the number – the same number this house has had since it first received phone service lord knows when. GA8-6948 a throwback to an era when numbers had names to denote the exchange. Our was “Garden Eight”
As a kid I recall two things about the phone. First was the inviolate rule of the party line. We shared the line with three other houses and our ring was one short and two long. I was banned from ever answering until an adult confirmed the ring was ours. Of course that didn’t stop my brother and me from listening in to George and Millie or Fred and Betty or the nice old lady next door.
The number was simple. Massachusetts had a single area code — 617 — and all we needed to dial were five numbers. 8-6948. The boat yard in Osterville, Crosby’s, was 8-6958, so we got a lot of misdials looking for one of the Crosby uncles.
Five digits went away in the 70s as the switches were upgraded and the population grew. We had to dial all seven digits: 428-6948. Then the 617 area code that covered the state was overloaded and in came the hated 508 area code. And before long we were a touchtone house.
But the old phone still sits upstairs, screwed into the wall above the laundry folding table.
I tend to be a sucker for completing surveys from brands I love and the New York Times is one of them. This morning I invested 15 minutes in a lengthy survey on my willingness to pay for a variety of schemes to deliver NYT content to me via print and online. As a staunch hater of pay-walls, yet an inveterate paid subscriber of the Wall Street Journal Online (as well as a paid subscriber to the print editions of everything from Woodenboat to Baseball America, the Times and the Atlantic Monthly) I contradict myself when I say on the one hand that information should be free versus my practice of paying for stuff that I really want and prize.
The Times is obviously going to a paid model. But here’s my proposal to them. Segment your circulation in a pyramid model. At the top are print subscribers who cough up the big bucks to have a wad of paper dropped at the end of the driveway every morning. Those subscribers get carte blanche access to everything. iPad apps, smartphone apps, NYT.com. No questions, no up-charges, no nickle and diming. The rest? Well, tier it from a monthly model but don’t nag the user to death with micropayments and day passes. I would rather be hit once and hit hard than suffer the death of a thousand cuts.
Gauging from the dozen or so pricing schemes offered up during the interminable survey, the beancounters at the Times are crunching through a lot of models, models driven by the panoply of platforms they have to deliver to: paper, PC browser, iPad, Smartphone, e-book readers. But what came through for me, as I tried to pick the best pricing scheme like a new set of eyeglasses at the optometrist – “Better this way? Or this way?” — is how much the Times is important to me and would rank, along with a handful of sources, as the only publication Iwould cough up $50 a month or more to read on whatever device I decide to read it on.
While I wish there was an advertising model robust enough to subsidize publishing and keep the paywalls down, the truth is the old display model of CPMs does not work, sponsorships are barely hanging on, and marketers will carry their ad dollars to volume ad networks and paid search for the foreseeable future. So, if keeping the reporters and editors of the Times employed means paying for digital access, then so be it. I will pay.
The one thing I may not pay for much longer is the print edition. Much as I love it, I seem to be the only one in the household who does. So … iPad get ready, you may be the preferred platform for the foreseeable future.