Newspapers as they move away from the print world and try to embrace the online distribution of news are being faced with how they are going to make money. Advertising might work for blogs and other small news oriented endeavors but when it comes to the size of operations like The New York Times advertising supported distribution isn’t going to cut it.
Even at the peak of advertising on the web some would argue that there wouldn’t be enough income from ads to keep the newspaper running the same way it has been. Now that we are in an advertising slump it is even harder to pay the bills, let alone make a profit. So the folks at NYT has been floating a survey asking if people would be willing to pay $5.00 a month to access the NYT’s website.
As Hamilton Nolan at Gawker pointed out – if all 650,000 print subscribers paid this $5 a month NYT would see an instant influx of $39 million per year. Now as nice as that kind of money would be the chances of even getting close to that is next to nil. The fact is that as iconic as the New York Times might be in this day and age of news coming at us a mile a minute from more places than you can shake a stick at there is nothing special about NYT that would justify paying a per month fee.
The reality is that very few news organizations will ever be able to get away with charging any kind of subscription fee. Where the news in the past was made available by those with the money to invest in things like printing presses and vast distribution chains that is no longer the case. Today news distribution is a zero sum game where anyone can distribute both broad ranging news and niche news.
Does this mean that organizations like the New York Times can’t survive in a zero cost distribution world? Definitely not. The problem is that they are still trying to mold old world practices into a new world of news instead of using their brand and immense database of news to create a new organization that can live – and profit in the new world of news.