SO it was a bit of a surprise, after all the sturm und drang, to see the early results of The Times's online subscription experiment. They're not half bad. In a news release issued Wednesday morning, the company reported that since it began in mid-September, TimesSelect has generated 270,000 subscribers, half of whom already subscribed to the newspaper (and hence get the new service free) and half of whom were plunking down cold, hard cash.We're supposed to believe that? Why would they wall off their columnists for so little money? And what's with saying "TimesSelect has generated 270,000 subscribers"? Generated? Half of those people (including me) got it free as subscribers to the paper version.
To be sure, that is a far cry from the million-plus people who spend as much as $600 a year to buy the dead-tree version of The Times, and it's not even remotely close to the 20 million-plus "unique visitors" who come to the Times Web site each month. But it's something. Martin Nisenholtz, who is in charge of digital operations for The New York Times Company, told me that the numbers were "at the high end" of expectations.
It is far too early, of course, to predict whether TimesSelect will ultimately succeed. The roughly 135,000 online-only subscribers could represent a new willingness on the part of consumers to pay for newspaper content online - or not. But what I've wound up wondering is whether, even if it is a roaring success, TimesSelect - and other online subscription models that are bound to follow - will be enough to stop the erosion of the economics that underlie newspaper journalism. I'm not terribly sanguine.Is it really too early? It looks like a dreadful failure to me. In any case, the real problem, Nocero writes, is that, with or without TimesSelect, on line news reading will erode the journalism business. He quotes one analyst: "For every dollar coming out of the dead-tree pocket, only 33 cents is going back into the online pocket."
By the way, the TimesSelect columnists are recording little podcasts, about 3 or 4 minutes per column. I listened to Nocero's. (Boy, did it take a long time to download! I can download one of my own 1-hour podcasts in about the time it took to get those 3+ minutes.) It's not Nocero just reading his column -- in the style of a Slate podcast. It's more like my idea for podcasting, which is to talk spontaneously about what you've been writing. Nocero confides that he's being rather audacious writing about the NYT, and perhaps they will fire him.
I tested the Maureen Dowd podcast though, just now, and it is not Mo musing about the column, it's a broadcasty voice reading Mo's most recent column. David Brooks? Same thing! Tierney? Same! Friedman? What do you think?
Only Nocero gets podcasty -- as I define podcastiness.