A short note on the newspaper everybody loves to hate, the good old New York Times.
As just about everyone knows, the Times has been thinking for some time about introducing a paywall. The rules for the paywall have been announced, to quite a furor in the blogosphere. I don’t want to rehearse those comments here; in the end, the Times‘ paywall either works or it does not. But what has not been noted, as far as I know, is the opportunity for the Times in business-to-business (B2B) subscriptions.
There is scarcely a college or corporation of any size that does not receive a stack of newspapers every day, the Times and the Wall Street Journal among them. If you arrive at a skyscraper in Manhattan early in the morning, you see a huge pile of papers on the desk of the security guard. All print, of course: the online version is accessed wherever by managers on the go.
Now that a consumer (B2C) paywall is being put up, the Times will be able to charge all those companies for digital access. There will be little price resistance here and few attempts to game the system. Corporations may topple governments, start wars, and corrupt American elected officials, but they don’t infringe copyrights. It’s too easy to get caught. The cost of the Times will be a pittance to them — a tax-deductible pittance.
Of course, you can’t charge IBM and Halliburton for the New York Times if you are giving it away to John Q. Public for free. Thus the paywall snares two classes of customer: individuals, who complain, and organizations, who pay up.
There is an analogy here to the world of open access publishing. Currently corporations pay part of the toll for STM journals, but in a true open access regime, even major corporations would get a free ride. Paradoxically, erecting a paywall is a way of democratizing the support of a publication because only then can GE, Microsoft, and Merck be forced to pay.
How much will institutional subscriptions to the Times cost? We don’t know yet, but we should expect that the cost will be greater than that for the current print subscriptions. Imagine a large university that purchases 10 copies of the print Times every day. Now think of charging for the Times on an FTE basis. The Times company potentially can greatly increase its revenues here. Think in terms of tens of millions of dollars.
We should expect that the people who have to pay these fees will complain, but I find it hard to imagine any college or university not making the Times available online to its community.
The Gray Lady has some life in her yet.