The Times is finally dropping the online hammer: Executive editor Bill Keller has announced that by the end of June, they will come to a decision on how to charge for online content. They’re serious about it, too, with two different models that are being “strongly considered.” As bloggers (and thus fans of free content to inspire our delightful prose), this makes us wince — but it has to happen, obviously, and one would like to think most loyal Times readers would ultimately (if not a wee bit reluctantly) pay an online fee rather than lose the publication altogether.
How bad is this going to hurt? One monetization option is a “membership” system:
In this model, readers pledge money to the site and are invited into a “New York Times community.” You write a check, you get a baseball cap or a T-shirt (if it’s like Channel Thirteen, a tote bag!), an invite to Times event, or perhaps, like The Economist, access to specialized content on the Web. He said he wouldn’t even be opposed to offering a donor access to a Page One editorial meeting as long as it doesn’t affect the paper competitively.
If the pledge requests are reasonable, this doesn’t seem all that terrible; we do love tote bags (really). On the other hand, Managing Editor Jessica never once accessed the specialized web content that came with her now-defunct Economist subscription, under the reasoning that it took long enough to get through the standard, non-specialized content. But that could have something to do with ADD.
The other, more terrifying model is what they’re calling a “meter system”:
[T]he reader can roam freely on the Web site until hitting a predetermined limit of word-count or pageviews, after which a meter will start running and the reader is charged for movement on the site thereafter. [Keller] warned staff at the meeting that this pay model would be “tricky.” If the word-count limit or page-view limit is set too low, it could chase readers off, compromising traffic and advertising revenue.
Keller said the paper makes “a lot, a lot” off of digital advertising, so lower traffic might threaten the italics in that statement. But if the bar is set too high, they won’t make the sort of profits they need to.
So what might be a plausible word count? Clearly it has to be tens of thousands, but how many tens of thousands? Ross Douthat’s last column was just over 750 words; yesterday’s exploration of banker-clothes backlash was around 1,100 words; and this Sunday’s Magazine profile of Suze Orman is 5,500 words. If someone wants to take a stab at how many words are in a single print edition, we’d love to know the number.