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.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. k1v1n

    I’m in agreement with you. I think the Times lost readers that won’t be coming back.Another point on this study is that it was done in 2004, yet it didn’t appear in print until June 2007. The study was done at at time when the consumer shift was on to search. So in 2004 the two, online and print, might have complemented each other. By 2007 the concept of a destination Web site was clearly toast.

  2. ErikSchwartz

    I was up at the Online News Association conference in Toronto this week. The NYT decision to undo TimesSelect was obviously quite a topic of discussion. The most interesting opinion I heard was not about the columnists behind a wall, but the archives behind the wall.It has not been widely discussed but when the NYT decided to do away with TS, they also opened up free access to the archives of the NYT for the last 30 years or so. How long do you think it will take for whenever you do research on google in the top 2 or 3 links you’ll find every story the NYT did on the subject in the last 30 years?To me, (and to Steve Safran who pointed it out to me) that is far more powerful than the opening up of the columnists.

  3. josh guttman

    I completely agree. NYT does deserve some credit though, for reversing their decision and correcting it. WSJ is an even more egregious offender of the subscription model (a topic I blogged about last winter) and I think it has cost them millions in lost ad revenue from the missed traffic opportunity. NYT will recover from the NYT Select fiasco and not miss a beat. WSJ will take far longer because they’ve alienated users by shutting them out for years.

    1. ProductArchitect

      Of course that’s possible, but I suspect that the WSJ is an exception since it’s considered a “business news” paper rather than “general news” paper.

  4. Don Jones

    Grey ladies aren’t known for being visionary…One more example of an old industry stuck in an old thought pattern.As the owner of a subscription model venture capital database, I wrestle with the ad vs. subscription supported model. So, I’m starting up an ad-supported site of syndicated data from the subscription site – to diversify revenues and to see which concept comes out the winner.

  5. SidneyV

    Hey, thanks for quoting me! I am glad you found them useful. Generally I keep my comments that don’t concern my professional identity separate, while giving my email address to the author, so as to keep my views separate from my employment. This is just for your eyes only, since you were generous enough to quote my comment.

  6. Steven Kane

    why do we keep agonizing over this stuff?first, Clayton M. Christensen laid all this out clearly, deeply and in detail, and for the ages, in his must-read tome, The Innovator’s Dilemma. And it’s not that complicated, really: Big companies simply are not set up or rewarded for innovating and risk taking; they are justly devoted to creating economies of scale and harvesting.more important, what are we? suicidal? if big companies suddenly became innovators and risk takers, all the rewards and returns will go out of being entrepreneurs and doing startups. we get paid huge premiums when we succeed because we have smartly executed outsourced R&D for big companies and institutional investors. if big companies start blazing the new trails themselves, and getting it right quickly, our value in the food chain will radically deteriorate.i get as frustrated as anyone dealing with big companies, but next time your head is ready to explode let a little voice say: “opportunity is knocking…”

    1. fredwilson

      Well said steveI couldn’t agree more