Free vs. Freemium at the Times

I got a couple comments to my Freemium post and My Favorite Business Model post that I’d like to respond to.

Rick Burnes said:

The way you’ve described freemium it seems like Times Select = A Big
Freemium Experiment. Yet you’re not a big TS fan. (Who is?) Does
freemium work for content? Why does it make sense to wall off network
calling on Skype, but not Nick Kristoff’s columns?

And Jeff Jarvis said:

works in services, not content, i’d say.

Jeff is absolutely correct and he answers Rick’s question.  If your business is entirely about content, then you must offer your content for free and support it with advertising.  You can offer the same content in more convenient forms as a paid service (email and RSS alerts, packaged without ads, archives, etc) but I believe you must make the content free or you will not maximize the audience and the value of the online medium.

I believe that the Times is making a mistake with Times Select.  I’ve blogged about this in the past.  The numbers may support their decision, it was an easy one to make since they never took ads in their columnist’s pages anyway. 

But I believe that putting up a wall between the online audience and content marginalizes that content and makes it less valuable.  The online medium is all about links and you can’t link to content that isn’t freely available.

I do believe that offering services to the Times’ customers such as crossword puzzles, archive search, photography archive, etc are great examples of ways to leverage the freemium business model and I just wish the TImes would focus on adding more services like that and take down the wall between their potential audience and their best columnists.