Selling Web Content: NYT Fails to Learn from LAT’s Mistake

Stupid in New York: In July 2004, the New York Times made a raid on the Los Angeles Times, snapping up four of its top staffers, including film reviewer Manohla Dargis and architecture reviewer Nicolai Ouroussoff.

One factor that led to the reviewers jumping ship was the fact that their work product was only available online to paid subscribers in the Calendar Live section of the LAT’s website. The partitioning of their work behind the “paid” wall meant that their reviews were not as widely circulated as their peers – or even as reviews posted by citizen-reviewers on their blogs. By moving to the NYT, where there was no paid wall, the LAT reviewers made the calculation that they would have more influence because more people would read their reviews.

In the wake of these significant losses of intellectual capital, the LAT took down the paid wall and opened Calendar Live.

A lesson was learned in Los Angeles. But in New York, not so much.

Starting last Monday, the NYT partitioned off some of its most popular writers – including Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman – behind a paid wall. What is especially interesting about this the theory that the loss of influence of the Times’ opinionistas might actually benefit opinion-writers out in the blogosphere:

Jay Rosen at his Pressthink blog [argues] that with a thousand flowers of opinion blooming on the Web every day, who needs the tired views of the Times’ veterans?

Today, Mark Karlin, who runs, said, “It is rather noteworthy that the New York Times chose to force readers to pay to read their columnists, many of whom remain the sole progressive voices in the establishment newspaper of the status quo. It certainly appears a curious choice, considering that Judith Miller’s erroneous stories would still be free, were she free to be an administration conduit once again.”

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the top liberal political blog Daily Kos, wrote:

“The Wall Street Journal is not stupid. They’re smart. They’ve put their news content behind a pay wall and have done quite well revenue-wise for their troubles. BUT, they also want to influence public opinion. And being a key component of the Right Wing Noise Machine, the WSJ editorial board has made sure their opinion material is accessible to everyone. Heck, they have a guy emailing their content to bloggers. They even have a separate site for it:…

“The New York Times, on the other hand, is the textbook definition of stupid. They take the one part of the paper that is a commodity — the opinion — and try to charge for that. No Krugman? Who cares. Give me Brad DeLong. No Bob Herbert? Whatever. Give me James Wolcott or anyone at the American Prospect or Washington Monthly. Or any of the thousands of columnists at other newspapers, and the tens of thousands of political bloggers.”


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