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Friday, April 08, 2011

Somebody Had To Do Something - New York Times Charges for Online News

This morning was a defining one – a point in my life when something changed even larger than an earthquake or flood – a point of no return.

Every morning I get up early – usually by 6 AM – and stumble to my computer before breakfast. I enjoy reading my news online – even better than the tug of war over breakfast with my wife for the 4 sections of the Tallahassee Democrat. Online – I can make the type bigger or smaller – I can make the screen to whatever brightness I desire – and I do not have to turn on the bright lights to read my morning wakeup news. My enthusiasm for the new days begins with knowing there are about 10 different fresh newspapers waiting for me right there on my little laptop.

It is almost like Russian roulette deciding which one I will read first – The Tallahassee Democrat – the NY Times – The Washington Post – the Pottsville Republican – the Allentown Morning Call – the London Times - etc – etc – etc. Today – I wanted to read the NY Times's version of the budget crisis in Washington. To my surprise I got this message - "you have already read your 20 free article online this month – you must have a paid subscription to read more." After about 15 years of having my way with The Gray Lady for free – she finally decided to charge me for her wares. Yes – I knew it was coming – but that still does not dull the pain. It is always that way when you have been getting the milk for free – it is finally time to buy the cow.

I have been urging The Tallahassee Democrat to start charging people to read their paper online for quite a while. Bob Gabordi is still finding ways to put off my emails that encourage him to only allow commenters online that use their real name. About half a year ago – the Democrat went "pay to play." If you want to read the paper online or post comments - it is $15 a month - $20 a month if you also want the paper edition. I have been a charter member of that club – I think it a a super bargain to get all this news and entertainment anywhere we travel in the world for $20 a month. Yes – some cheapskate readers howled and howled but in most cases they pulled out the credit card and subscribed. For many readers the Democrat is the only place they can express themselves with their venomous comments that anonymous posting allows. But that is another story.

The NY Times is offering monthly services that ranges from $15 to $35 a month. They offer a $1 trial for a "introductory" month. I have read the different plans and am having a hard time telling the differences between them. One includes a iPhone app – another includes an iPad app – and the top one includes both iPhone and iPad apps. All plans offer regular computer access.

The New York Times tried this once before. About seven years ago – they offer a $5 a month plan that published stories that were excluded from the regular online edition. To me this meant I had to pay $5 a month to read Maureen Dowd's column's from her Washington Desk. They were worth it for $5 a month - but I soon found a free way around that gate – by reading her columns in the international edition. Talk about a wide open back door.

This time the Times seems serious – it is really going to "pay per view." The big question is whether this is the opening of the floodgate. Will all the other paper's follow?

For almost 20 years – newspapers have been continuing to print a paper version – charge for it – and then give the same news away for free on the Internet. Not only was it free on the net – but you got to read it way sooner than the print version that arrived at your door. In the case of the Democrat – you could even read some stories a full 24 hours before they make it to print. And again – I can make it bigger and brighter on my screen so as John Hancock said, "the king would be able to read it without his spectacles."

I love newspapers. For over 200 years they have been a connection between the little guy and his government. They have brought all the sports updates to his door. They announced who was born - got married – had babies – and died. They gave us a soapbox to expose our hair-brained ideas. Unfortunately – like the post office – it is a dying institution. But these efforts to computerize the paper are good. It must give the staff at the Democrat some solace that they were one of those to make first step - and the New York Times followed their lead.

Somebody had to do something.

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