The Wall Street Journal has a piece looking at recent efforts by the New York Times to make more content available for free. The Times has a tricky tightrope to walk, as it’s long been one of the big boosters of subscriptions and paywalls—but evidence is mounting that kids these days get most of their news from other sources, and they get it for free. So, after only 20,000 people subscribed to the NYT’s $8-per-month mobile app rather than the expected 200,000, they tried making it free instead.
Speaking of tricky tightropes, the Times is seeing its ad revenue decline while its circulation revenue rises. This puts the paper in a delicate position, to say the least.
“The problem the Times has is that they have no more revenue streams to mine,” said one former New York Times executive. “The real risk is that if you start making your content free elsewhere, it may end up giving no incentive to new readers to start paying, and that could cause a dangerous spiral as time goes on.”
What’s absent from the WSJ article is any sense of what the Times should be doing. It’s not exactly a surprise. As many papers have been learning, free is really tricky to beat.