Interesting Debate About Times Select

Longtime readers know that I’ve had a thing about TimesSelect from the day it launched.

I have a lot of scars in my back and one of them is the decision we made at to charge a subscription while our competitor, MarketWatch, went with the free ad supported model. That lesson was painful as we watched MarketWatch take a leadership position that they have never relinquished, even after being purchased by Dow Jones.

Nick Carr brings up this subject today with a post defending TimesSelect as a smart revenue maximation strategy while online advertising caught up with print advertising. Maybe that’s what it was, but I don’t think so. I think it was print newspaper thinking at work in online media, which is a bad idea.

Online media can take advantage of network effects which offline media cannot. Nick benefits from being picked up heavily in Techmeme (#25). It drives more readers to his blog and incents people wanting to get on Techmeme to link to him. It’s a virtuous cycle. But the Times’ opinion pages, possibly the best raw material for blogging and online discussion, didn’t participate in that virtuous cycle for the past several years because of TimesSelect. They let others take that position from them.

Would the Huffington Post be what it is today if it weren’t for TimesSelect? I don’t know, but that’s the kind of thinking I try to do instead of traditional economics/revenue maximization when I think about stuff like this.

I particularly like this comment from Sidney to Nick’s post:

BTW, in late 80′s, Larry Ellison, nobody’s fool as a businessman,
enunciated it thusly: in early markets, maximize marketshare, not
profits. NY Times should have become *the* go-to place for news &
views online. They always had the breadth & depth of content. The
fact that they let a whole lot of other sources jump ahead speaks
volumes of their failure of vision.

If they had that vision, it is possible that most respected bloggers
(like you!) would have found it profitable to channel their content
through the NY Times online site, which got, say, 50 million readers a
day. In that world, it is also possible to envision that they spin out
the print division itself, becoming an all-online operation.

As a businessman, I can tell you that these are the types of
fundamentally unmeasurable opportunity costs that visionary leaders are
aware of at a gut level.