Several weeks has passed since the Times pulled their best content for a subscription based service called "Times Select." I thought I would give it some time and see if (1) they would put it back because of a popular demand, or (2) I would miss it so much I would start paying myself. Well, neither has happened.
Why are they doing this? Greed? No, that's not a fair criticism; they are a company and companies are supposed to make money. Furthermore, like all companies which are directly impacted by the internet, the Times are faced with a radical change to their business model. Remember - companies don't like big change, much less radical change - they like slow, predictable growth. Newspaper companies (Gannett, Knight Ridder, WaPo) are all seeing their traditional newspaper sales drop and their advertising from that service dropping 2 to 5% a year. In fact, its so dire one of Knight Ridder's largest owner has thrown in the towel (publicly) and asked for someone to buy their stake to put the owner out of their misery.
So if there is no answer for how to reverse this erosion of the margins, the media companies turn to their online properties. Now, online properties in large "non core internet" companies are interesting places. In the late 1990's, they were the next Messiahs. Internet people could make money fall from the sky - all you needed were the "right" people with enough stock options. When these Silicon Valley Wonderkids proved they weren't capable of hosting the company Holiday Party (much less actually run the company), there was a fierce backlash against anyone with the "dot com" stigma associated with their resume - rightfully so, I might add.
Google has changed all that. They are making real money and lots of it. They are making money without asking their customers to pay while providing services (including this blogging service) free of charge (thanks by the way). Now, all companies are giving the internet a second chance and we are seeing so "aggressive" (also see "stupid" and "NewsCorp") acquisitions of internet properties. So, that brings us back to the Times Select. They (1) have to make more money and (2) are seeing others being successful.
Unfortunately, although they are proud of their sales, I would encourage them to think longer term. I no longer reference their editorials in my witty diatribes. Their opinions no longer impact my understanding of the world around me, and I am resigned to finding analysis from other sources. I won't play the "ideals in journalism" or "duty to inform" card, but they can learn from Google - if you provide enough of a quality service, advertising can more than cover your costs and satisfy the wildest dreams of your board of directors.