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.