All the news that’s fit for blackmail

18 Mar

NewnytthewallSo the New York Times wants me to pay to access their content. Fair enough. The truth is I value their content highly enough that it’s probably one of the few newspapers I’d open my wallet to read online.

Sadly, I wont.

The Times’ pricing scheme is an ill-advised, and perhaps even mean-spirited approach that would be mirrored off-line only if they tried to charge a variable price based on which room in which you intend to read the paper. I suspect readers will punish them accordingly.

History it seems is anxious to repeat itself when it comes to newspapers. Let’s just review the past decade, shall we? First came newspaper web sites. They launched them with some hesitation, only to insist that the online content mirror what was in the print edition.

It took a couple years, but eventually editors realized that TV station web sites, blogs and just about anyone with laptop was spanking them and swiping readers. So their sites started updating throughout the day.

Then came classified ads. Publishers scoffed at giving them away. People had to pay more if they wanted ads both in the paper and online. Craigslist killed that cash cow.

And so it goes. Auto listings, gone. Movie times, gone. Local event listings, restaurant reviews, and so it goes.

Oh, and let’s not forget local market advertising. Can anyone think of a valid reason why newspapers shouldn’t have developed Groupon a decade ago? If you’re a merchant trying to jump-start your business would you rather invest in ink on dead trees or a Groupon-like offer?

Look, don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of newspapers. I spent 12 years writing for the Dallas Morning News. So I have great respect for journalists.

But newspapers aren’t charging so that they can build great content. Hardly. They’re cutting staff and corners. No, publishers are charging to recapture revenue that poor decisions let slip away. Yes, by all means lash out at consumers for your mistakes.

Which brings me back to the Times pricing scheme. The plan starts out smartly, offering up to 20 articles per month free. That doesn’t include articles I click to from search results, blogs or email. That doesn’t turn away the light reader from the paper.

If I want to read the site on a computer, that will cost me $195 a year. Ouch. If I want to pull up articles on my computer and the New York Times iPad app, that will cost $260. And, if I have the audacity to want to get content on my computer, iPad and my smart phone, well the old grey lady figures that’s worth $455.

Scratching your head yet? Why does the paper care what form I read? It doesn’t cost any more to publish one digital format over the others? Nor is there content I that’s unique to any digital version.

And here’s the real kicker. If I subscribe to home delivery for the printed newspaper that is only $385, AND I get all the digital content I want for free. Hell, I can subscribe to just the Sunday newspaper for $195 a year and still get all the digital content for free.

Seems to me like someone is trying to bully me into getting back into home delivery. Instead I will vote on March 28th, when all this goes into effect, not to be blackmailed by keeping my credit card in my wall.