August 7, 2007

The Firewall Of Sanity Crumbles In Face Of Irrelevancy

Two years ago, the New York Times provided on-line readers with a strong disincentive to read their columnists. TimesSelect, which I called the Firewall of Sanity, charged $50 per year for people who just couldn't get enough of Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Frank Rich. Now the New York Post reports that Pinch Sulzberger has finally realized that he has marginalized his own columnists in an on-line universe (via Memeorandum):

The New York Times is poised to stop charging readers for online access to its Op-Ed columnists and other content, The Post has learned.

After much internal debate, Times executives - including publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. - made the decision to end the subscription-only TimesSelect service but have yet to make an official announcement, according to a source briefed on the matter. ...

In July, The Post reported that insiders were lobbying to shut down the service. After two years, however, the move to do away with TimesSelect may have more to do with growth than grumbling inside the paper.

The number of Web-only subscribers who pay $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year fell to just over 221,000 in June, down from more than 224,000 in April.

TimesSelect belongs to a bygone era of gatekeeping that had become obsolete even before Pinch pinched off readership of his star columnists. It practically served as a monument to the Times' sclerotic management. Hiding these columnists behind the Firewall of Sanity may have served a noble purpose in elevating the debate, but irrelevance became the chief consequence of the service. Without access to the opinion columns, no one cared any longer what the Times' writers had to say.

Now they want to free their stable of columnists from irrelevance. Perhaps it will help generate more readership for these writers, but I suspect that most people have found other columnists to put on their regular-read list. The Times will have to work pretty hard -- and spend lots of money -- to market these columnists to on-line readers who passed on paying $50 two years ago.

When will the Sulzberger family trust start to rethink the Pinch regime, anyway?


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Comments (26)

Posted by Adjoran | August 7, 2007 10:28 AM

If the Class A stockholders were going to purge Pinch they would have done so a while ago. The family still holds a controlling interest and where the heck could he get another job, anyway?

It will be nice to see David Brooks in the light of day once more, but the TimesSelect experiment did have the advantage of keeping the nonsense of Krugman (who was already known by the 1990s for having "predicted 17 of the last three recessions") and the rapidly desiccating Mo Dowd out of sight, thereby doing their part to beautify the internet.

Posted by das411 | August 7, 2007 10:35 AM

I for one would like to thank the Firewall for leading me to completely forget about and go out and discover far more talented (not to mention *sane*) columnists like Ralph Peters, Victor Davis Hanson, and our esteemed Captain!

Posted by cathyf | August 7, 2007 11:03 AM

I've always thought that the contrast between NYT and WSJ practice is highly illustrative.

The NYT does not value anyone's labor, including their own, so they give away their newsgathering for free on their web site. Consistent with their general contempt for human beings, they believe that all the sheeple out there would just fall over themselves to pay their betters who would lecture them on how to think.

The WSJ charges for virtually all of their news, advice columnists and pricing data. It requires significant effort to collect, write up and publish this information, and if the work is valuable then the workers are worth their wages. On the other hand, consistent with their core values of modesty, decency and respect for people, they understand that when you are trying to persuade people to your point of view you are already imposing on their time and goodwill for them to hear you out, and to try to charge money is simply adding insult to injury. Virtually everything that goes on their editorial and op-ed pages eventually goes on their opinionjournal site, which is free.

Note that the WSJ web site is chiefly noted as the only non-porn pay site on the Internet that makes money.

Posted by Barnestormer | August 7, 2007 11:07 AM

Dropping the fee may boost the NYT columnists' sagging readership, but the real economic driver will obviously be the elimination of the most serious competition--WWN.

Come to think of it, most of the leading MSM dailies will benefit from the demise. I smell a conspiracy.

Posted by NahnCee | August 7, 2007 11:35 AM

The Arabs just love to quote Friedman. He's either good to skewer because he's Jewish and therefore an obvious Zionist, or he's good to wave around because he's anti-Bush and anti-war, and also a Jew so he must know what he's talking about.

They haven't been quoting him, though, while he was buried behind the NYT wall. Be interesting to see if his name starts popping up again in the Arab on-line media, too, of if they have also found new sources and have moved on.

Posted by Ray | August 7, 2007 11:41 AM

So, the New York Times is finally giving up on it's TimesReject experiment in futility. I wonder what took them so long?

Posted by sherlock | August 7, 2007 12:18 PM

Isn't it ironic that the geniuses at the NYT, who have been so generous with their advice on how to run a war, can't seem to run a newspaper? Looks like Pinch's wall has got the the NYT into a quagmire, and it has been losing the hearts and minds of those whom they thought would welcome them as liberators from the Bush-Cheney regime!

Irony, with a dollop of schadenfreud... so rich, creamy, and delicious!

Posted by viking01 | August 7, 2007 12:30 PM

Sulzberger demonstrates typical Liberal ineptitude when handling other peoples' money (and his inheritance) while forever confusing price with quality.

Pinch decided to hang a dime box on his outhouse door and now wonders why people are instead using the trees on the edge of the woods nearby.

Posted by Mike M. | August 7, 2007 12:32 PM

Poor, poor Pinchy. Much like the networks, he came of age during a time when to a large extent, he had virtual total control over the dissemination of information, news analysis, and opinion making.

Much to his chagrin, he's finding out that those days are over, and they're not coming back. Better learn to adjust to the new paradigm Pinchy, because the Times they are a'changin.

Posted by FedUp | August 7, 2007 12:46 PM

Quite frankly.... you'd have to pay ME to read Krugman and Dowd... Sometimes, it spite of everything, some people just don't get the word!

Posted by MarkJ | August 7, 2007 12:59 PM

Dear Sherlock,

Isn't it ironic that the geniuses at the NYT, who have been so generous with their advice on how to run a war, can't seem to run a newspaper? Looks like Pinch's wall has got the the NYT into a quagmire, and it has been losing the hearts and minds of those whom they thought would welcome them as liberators from the Bush-Cheney regime!

By Jove, Sherlock, I think you're on to something. Perhaps some intelligent soul will at the Times will recommend the paper and its staff immediately redeploy to, oh say, Okinawa. What better way to maintain an "over-the-horizon" presence and not exacerbate the flames of impending journalistic civil war?

Posted by viking01 | August 7, 2007 12:59 PM

Don't forget that now the Weekly World News is out of business Sulzberger must move to accommodate that change in his market sector.

More tin foil hats, to lobby for more gummint handouts or renew the NY Times online subscription? Those are the tough financial decisions Liberal-Socialists-Communists have to make every day.

Posted by MarkJ | August 7, 2007 1:22 PM

Dear Fed Up,

Quite frankly.... you'd have to pay ME to read Krugman and Dowd... Sometimes, it spite of everything, some people just don't get the word!

Maureen Dowd: "I can't get a date and it's all George Bush's fault."

Paul Krugman: "I've been continually wrong about the economy and it's all George Bush's fault."

Bob Herbert: "I'm a one-trick pony and it's all George Bush's fault."

Sorry, but you couldn't even pay me to subject myself to these fools on a daily basis! (LOL!)

Posted by exDemo | August 7, 2007 1:25 PM


Your suggestion that they redeploy to Ohkinawa, is sane advice too.

Their espoused policies will eventually incinerate New York City in an Arab nuclear fire.

It wouldn't be good for Mr. Pinch, to be punched in the expanding fireball.

Posted by FedUp | August 7, 2007 1:26 PM

MarkJ... ROFLMAO!!!

Posted by Neo | August 7, 2007 1:29 PM

interesting piece on federal “shield-law” legislation.

Posted by Gbear | August 7, 2007 1:49 PM

Darn, now I have to figure out another way to save money.

Posted by Gbear | August 7, 2007 1:51 PM

Darn, now I have to figure out another way to save money.

Posted by skeptical | August 7, 2007 1:52 PM

Friedman anti-Bush? Friedman was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq from before day 1. He loved to say that the man who has killed the most Arabs was Saddam, a record he still holds (as Friedman will remind us). He only became "anti-Bush" when Rumsfeld's incompetence left us starting the fifth year of the war in worse shape than the first. Otherwise he's been as behind the campaign as much as Kristol, and no more critical of the conduct of the war than Kristol, and until this year, as much a supporter of the occupation continuing until we've tucked all the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish children to bed at night ("if you break it, it's yours").

I'm always astonished to see the judgment of people on things they haven't read.

Posted by rrk | August 7, 2007 2:28 PM

It occurs to me...

Has anyone ever seen Pinch Sulzberger and Nick Coleman together in the same room?

Nah, can't be.

Posted by Mark E. | August 7, 2007 2:47 PM

I say let them keep it up. I have no use in reading their op-ed pieces most of the time anyway.

Posted by AnonymousDrivel | August 7, 2007 5:05 PM

Maybe we could pay them to keep the firewall up. Consider it compassionate conservatism.

More nefariously, when the right time comes, we'll defund that security wall we've been propping up and let the inevitable online reality come crashing around their ankles. Can you say "buggy whip in a time of Fords?"

Posted by electric ferret | August 7, 2007 6:32 PM

This is just unbearable.

I just know that soon... very soon... I will be visiting my favorite Blogs and there will be Posts about "Dowd said this" and "Friedman said that" with quoted text and, of course, commentary on why what they said was stupid.

Seriously, I'm just filled with Heartache(TM) over it.

I remember how it was back in the days before the Wall that kept them at bay. I remember the blog posts dissecting their assinine columns with pointed political exacto-knives.

Please Captain. Don't succumb. They're just as irrelevant tomorrow as they were before the Wall came down. Don't dissect their columns.


Posted by Rollcast | August 7, 2007 6:56 PM

When the Gray Old Hag came up with this scheme, I suggested ( that perhaps we could pay to read some columnists but could be credited if we actually read the Dowd or Herbert.

Posted by Corky Boyd | August 7, 2007 7:00 PM

I think most folks are misreading the NY Post’s story about the Times freeing up Times Select. I think the story is the first salvo in the war against the Times by Murdoch. I think Pinch is being snookered.

First you must consider Pinch isn’t the brightest bulb on the planet, but he has one overriding mission. And that is to see Hillary in the White House after 2008 elections. All else is secondary, including the health of the paper. By feeding the rumor that TS will be made free, Murdoch is making it a self fulfilling prophesy. Web-only subscribers just won’t pay $50 for a year’s TS subscription if they think there’s a chance it will it will be free. Even if the Times keeps TS, revenues will decline because of the uncertainty.

But if they make it free, they immediately lose $10,000,000/year from web-only subscribers and will lose an incentive to maintain their hard copy subscription base. My guess is this is a price Pinch is willing to pay to gain exposure for Dowd, Krugman, Kristof and Rich for the election cycle.

Time is running out for the Times. The crunch will come when they cannot sustain their dividend. And that time is not far away. They have increased their dividend rate in the face of declining revenues and earnings twice in the last two years. This is to pacify shareholders, but it can’t be maintained. Currently earnings per share are projected at $1.00 for the year 2007 and their dividends are $.92/share. Revenues and earnings have been declining and they are currently living off of a cash infusion from the May sale of all their broadcasting properties. They can’t sell assets forever to sustain themselves. Most are newspapers. They had to revalue the Boston Globe down to $500MM from the over $1 billion they paid 15 years ago and a potential buyer walked away, even at that price.

I don’t know the financial situation of the NYT B (family) stock holders, but traditionally family ownerships of newspapers are usually not well diversified. They are heavily reliant on dividends from their publishing holdings to maintain their style of living. When dividends are threatened, family solidarity is challenged. This will probably be the case within a year.

The Times has never faced the kind of competition a revitalized WSJ under Murdoch can dish out. He may push the day of reckoning up, but probably not before the April/May shareholders’ meeting. But still it is not a pleasant scenario for Pinch.

Another family member, Michael Golden, was brought back to NY from his posting as Publisher of the (Times owned) International Herald Tribune last November, to assist Pinch. If the B stockholders have deep reservations about Pinch (probable) they will promote Golden to Pinch’s position, probably after the November elections. That will signal the end to the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty.

Posted by Clyde | August 7, 2007 7:48 PM

:"Mr. Sulzbergerachev, KEEP UP THIS WALL!"


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