There’s been so much ink spilled already on the coming paywall/metered model at the New York Times – not all of it all that informed – that the world hardly needs another blog post on the subject. But then again, if we only did what the world needed, it would be a pretty boring place.
So here’s two cents more on the pile. For some reason the topic of paywalls elicits a huge amount of passion; and so does the NYT. So together they’ve fueled a flood of opinion, from how it’s an obscene shake-down of consumers to how it’s a backward-looking plan that has distracted corporate attention and resources from real innovation to how Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is risking his legacy. There’s plenty to read (and some good stuff, too) from estimates of revenues to rants about information needing to be free.
But probably the best comment on all of this is by Bill Grueskin, former managing editor of WSJ.com and now dean of academic affairs at Columbia’s journalism school.
All those who say the paywall won’t work, or that it will, don’t know. They’re making it up.
It’s true. Not because the people who are commenting aren’t smart, but because we’re exploring a new kind of consumer behavior, and it’s not going to be really clear until it happens just how people take to paying for content. That’s not to say that we can’t make some good guesses, or that we can’t extrapolate from behavior elsewhere, or that market research on completely new products is completely useless.
But behavior online is still extremely plastic; what we do these days – post on Facebook, tweet, read stories recommended by our friends – wasn’t what we did five years ago; and what we did five years ago wasn’t what we did five years before that. And it’s likely we’ll be doing different things five years from now.
It helps, obviously, to make intelligent guesses about what people might or might not do and then tweak your product once you actually see their behavior. So what the Times is doing is providing a great experiment that we can all watch and hopefully learn something from.
If we went purely by logic, lots of products wouldn’t make sense. Bottled water – not just bottled water, but premium bottled water. There’s some sense to paying for convenience (ie, a handy bottle) and some assurance of safety. But why pay more for extra-special water? But people do. And so it is for a host of goods and services that we all happily shell out money for.
So let’s wait and see. Seek truth from facts. The Times isn’t the only thing that’s changing. We, the consumers, are too.