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Pay For Op-Eds? No.

Liberals bloggers seem to be reacting to the Times's plan to charge people to read their op-ed page online by heaping scorn on the paper's conservative columnists. Conservative bloggers, by contrast, are reacting to the Times's plan to charge people to read their op-ed page online by heaping scorn on the paper's liberal columnists along with Maureen Dowd who, people forget, just criticizes whoever happens to be in the White House in a substanceless manner. But the truth is that ideology has nothing to do with it. It's just that nobody's going to pay hard earned money to read op-ed columns in an era when there's way more free political commentary available every day than anybody could possibly read. Indeed, I suspect this will just be the first step in a process that leads to the total elimination of the op-ed page as we understand it. In a blogging world, the comparative advantage of a profit making newspaper enterprise is clearly its ability to undertake reporting projects that require resources and expertise that can't be mobilized more-or-less for free by people working in their spare time.

May 17, 2005 | Permalink

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» Yglesias: Not Gonna Pay from PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science
Matthew Yglesias isn't too impressed with the NYT's plans, either:nobody's going to pay hard earned money to read op-ed columns in an era when there's way more free political commentary available every day than anybody could possibly read. Yup. ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 11:58:22 AM

» New York Times to Charge for Reading Op-Ed Writers from TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime
The New York Times has announced it will begin charging online readers to access its opinion writers and other columnists in September. The paper will charge $49.95 per year for TimesSelect, a service that gives readers online access to the... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 1:10:53 PM

» The NYT op-ed shakedown from Daniel W. Drezner
I don't have a great deal to offer on the New York Times' decision to charge for some its content (including the op-ed page) starting in September that Virginia Postrel and Matthew Yglesias haven't already made. I do, however, have... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 2:35:58 PM

» Are They Nuts? from Freiheit und Wissen
...No one in their right mind would pay $50 for the privilege of reading Brooks, Tierney, Friedman, and Dowd... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 3:27:32 PM

» The days of "Scotty" Reston are gone. from City Comforts Blog
Pay for Op-Eds? Hilarious. As Yglesias puts it: ...this will just be the first step in a process that leads to the total elimination of the op-ed page as we understand it. In a blogging world, the comparative advantage of a profit making newspaper ente... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 3:59:19 PM

» The New York Times Is About To Encounter a Harsh Reality from A Beautiful Soul
I’m trying to understand why anyone would pay $50 to read Maureen Dowd’s snide comments about politicians or David Brooks’ fatuous-at-best observations or whatever the hell it is that Thomas Friedman [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 9:23:05 PM

Comments

i agree: i've said for ages now that, while i'm not a blogging triumphalist, it is clear that there is no reason for newspapers to be paying enormous salaries to pundits for op-ed work, much of which is astonishingly shoddy and ill-informed, when bloggers are doing it for free.

Posted by: howard | May 17, 2005 12:14:02 PM

Hmm, i'm not sure I completely buy that argument. I could go to the park 'round the blog, and watch some guys play ball every weekend. They're pretty good, and the ball park is nice, and it's free- but I'll still pay I-don't-know-how-much to go down to SBC Park to watch the Giants play LA. Why? 'Cause there's a value on quality.

I'll probably pay the fee when it comes online- because I value MoDo (love me some venomous redhead), Krugman, Herbert, and even Friedman and Brooks work. Sure, bloggers are opinion makers too - they're just more like minor leaguers. You'll still pay a premium to watch the majors.

Posted by: Brew | May 17, 2005 12:24:58 PM

I don't know how much of a revenue stream is involved in this move. Right now the bloggers provide lots of links to NY Times columnists - Matt, for example, frequently comments on Brooks and Friedman and links his posts to their columns, thus directing lots of traffic to Times content and advertizing.

There is a general aversion in the blogosphere to linking to pay content, although people do it from time to time. But there is a big difference between directing readers' attention to a 10, 20 or 50 thousand word essay of substance - in the New Republic for example - and linking to the daily mind doodles of NYT columnists. So this move is likely to drive a lot of blog-driven and mailing-list-driven traffic elsewhere. But perhaps they think they will make up for this loss by keeping loyal, daily online NY Times readers, who will pay extra for the commentary the way they pay for the crossword puzzles.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | May 17, 2005 12:28:25 PM

Brooks is the Majors? The fact that incredibly articulate and insighful bloggers (e.g. Digby) are giving it away for free - sometimes many times a day - and Bobo gets big bucks for half-assed ruminations twice a week, shows how screwed up the media landscape is.

I think the NYT move to make paid pundits irrelevant to the new media economy of ideas is a great step in the right direction. Who needs 'em.

Posted by: john I | May 17, 2005 12:36:57 PM

Why should I pay to see NYTimes columnists in their natural habitat, when my local paper pays their syndicate to re-print the columns the next day? And if I wait a day later, I can pick up yesterday's paper on a bus station bench for no money at all.

I admit, Krugman is increasingly a vital life-support system. But I can last 72 hours without reading his latest thoughts.

Posted by: Grumpy | May 17, 2005 12:45:03 PM

Brew, there are maybe 50 big-time op-ed pundit types around the country. Maybe, if i'm feeling generous, 20% of them are worth their salary, but most of them are no more major league talent than i am.

Posted by: howard | May 17, 2005 12:49:58 PM

One effect will be that certain farm league bloggers get to make fun of them less often. I’m certainly not paying to see if MoDo has a man yet so I can make yet another joke about it.

Posted by: Tim Worstall | May 17, 2005 12:54:38 PM

Must be nice to write a couple thousand words twice a week and get paid handsomely too.

Krugman is awesome, but he's available elsewhere. Rich is fine too, mostly.

I find it strange that the things that cost newspapers lots of money to do - investigative reporting, daily coverage of DC news, international reporting, etc. will be free, while slackers like Bobo get to wank completely three work-days a week and wank partially the other two. And then they get a weekend for 'rest'. And Bobo says their are no classes anymore - this from the chairperson of wankers-anonymous.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 17, 2005 12:56:24 PM

To me the value of Krugman isn't that he comes up with startling original insights. Instead, he takes stuff that is floating around (often in the blogosphere), distills it into an elegant, coherent and compelling package, and then gives it the massive mainstream cred that comes from being a NYT columnist.

I rarely get anything new out of a Krugman column. But lots of other people might, and he's so good at it that his voice is very powerful. (Though not as powerful as a bunch of screaming idiots given 24-7 reign on Fox.)

MoDo is a featherweight snark-machine. I wouldn't miss her if she were gone. Bobo and Tierney are right-wing affirmative action hires.

Posted by: jimBOB | May 17, 2005 12:57:38 PM

Wouldn't it be nice if Tom Friedman actually had to move to Bangalore and work graveyard shift at one of those call-centers he likes so much for a few years. Nah, not a chance.

Posted by: abb1 | May 17, 2005 1:12:49 PM

Why would someone interested in Times columnists not be even more interested in Times coverage, which is far more important and valuable? (Same can be said, in spades, about the Wall Street Journal, excellent paper except its execrable op-ed page.) Maybe I'm spoiled because I now live in NYC (what does the out-of-town edition, which I used to buy 20 odd-years ago when it was a better paper than it now is, cost these days?) but buy the damn paper unless you're in the rare town with a good paper of its own.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | May 17, 2005 1:14:14 PM

I'm waiting for some clarification as to just what is being offered here, but for some folks "access to TimesPast, the paper's archives" might actually wind up worthwhile compared to the current pay-per-article scheme. Granted, break-even is about 50 articles/year at $49.95/year, and the archives only go back to 1996, but the attraction for their new service isn't just the op-ed page. Why, if they reduced it to $9.95/year I might just consider it.

Posted by: modus potus | May 17, 2005 1:46:20 PM

Whither Weekend Update, Matt?

Posted by: Rebecca | May 17, 2005 1:50:20 PM

"Indeed, I suspect this will just be the first step in a process that leads to the total elimination of the op-ed page as we understand it."

Suddenly it all makes sense. The Times doesn't care that this move will damage the influence of their op-ed page. They figure that the page is doomed anyway, and they need an exit strategy. So they're going to cash in on the current fame (such as it is) of their op-ed writers. Then, after people figure out that there are better ways to spend $50 a year, the writers can be fired, because "nobody is paying to read them".

Or maybe P.T. Barnum was right and there are plenty of people who will pay the $50.

Posted by: PurpleStater | May 17, 2005 1:51:41 PM

I actually really enjoy Maureen Dowd, mostly because she's funny and snarky, not so much for the content, and I think Krugman is wonderful, and Herbert and Rich have their moments, too. (Although Rich's stuff is waaaaaaaaay too long for a Sunday when I also have the Week in Review, the magazine, and the book review. You know if you don't read the paper right away, it piles up and buries you.) Friedman annoys the hell out of me, but I understand why they have him there. But I'm not going to pay online for this, sorry. Almost no op-ed writer is that good.

Posted by: Lauren | May 17, 2005 1:51:59 PM

Hah! I looked here on the Yglesias blog yesterday for any mention of the NY Times plan when I first read about it (on nytimes.com, of course).

I don't think it's a matter of these particular writers being worth the money (they aren't), but whether ordinary people are willing to pay for content on line. For the most part, they haven't been willing to do so to date.

Posted by: Anita | May 17, 2005 2:04:10 PM

Imminent Death of the Op-Ed Page Predicted!

Posted by: jerry | May 17, 2005 2:28:56 PM

In a blogging world, the comparative advantage of a profit making newspaper enterprise is clearly its ability to undertake reporting projects that require resources and expertise that can't be mobilized more-or-less for free by people working in their spare time.

Hmm. I'm not saying that the pundits out there now are worth their salaries, but I am damned sure that the vast majority of the ones working for free are completely craptacular.

If we're moving to a service economy, can we at least try to make it a service economy where we don't all have to live on the streets?

Jebus, since you're a free trader not a fair trader, and a pundit, I hope you like working your way down the salary ladder already.

Posted by: jerry | May 17, 2005 2:32:49 PM

Well, considering the online publications costs are about nothing, and the 'journalists' involved would write for free, because the publicity gets them lucrative luncheon speaking engagements, it certainly won't take too many paid subscriptions for the Times to break even on this one.

Posted by: serial catowner | May 17, 2005 2:37:29 PM

jimBOB: and then [Krugman] gives it the massive mainstream cred that comes from being a NYT columnist.

I think the blogosphere had demonstrated that mainstream cred is an illusion not worth paying for. I'll take the opinions and analysis of Cowen, DeLong, Drezner, Djerejian, Volokh, and even Matty-boy here over those laughers at the NY Times any day. The blogosphere with all its warts is still much more of a meritocracy than the journalism industry. Plus Matt here already pointed out a while back that the 800-word column format is awfully stifling.

Bub-bye NY Times. You won't be missed.

Posted by: fling93 | May 17, 2005 2:45:47 PM

I think that what's happening is that the NYT management is looking at all of those page hits (mostly from blog links, I'd bet), and are desperately hoping that they can get some of those converted to paid subscriptions.

I have a feeling (and a hope) that they'll be disappointed.

Posted by: Barry | May 17, 2005 3:04:17 PM

Pay for NY Times access? Not a chance. Its the last desperation attempt to stay relevant. And for exactly the reasons that Matt has said: why pay for something that you can get for free? I'm not even willing to register to read the NY Times (I hate having to memorize another password, have to keep track of updating it every 3 months, have to login just to get on site-I do that for work, why do it for pleasure?). I can see that I'm not typical here (apparently alot of you do register for the NY Times), but I'd say I'm pretty typical for the public at large. I am sure an audience is inversely proportional to the effort necessary to reach the medium. Thus, TV (its free) has more viewers than cable (tv is effortless) which has more viewers than internet newspapers (they are pretty effortless), which have more viewers than internet newspapers (a bit more effort) that require registration, which have more viewers than internet papers that require payment (a bit more effort, and you pay). Good luck, NY Times

Posted by: Steve | May 17, 2005 3:20:18 PM

The blogosphere with all its warts is still much more of a meritocracy than the journalism industry.

LOL. Snort. Powerline? Insta-I-was-here-first-pundit?

The WSJ charges for the news content and gives away the lunatic rantings of the editorial board and op-ed column for free (not to mention raving fuckwit JimmyJeff Taranto, which they should be paying people to read). The bidness types pay for the news content; the editorial dreck disseminates through the right-wing echo chamber. Win-win.

Putting opinion stuff under a paywall is daft. Will it be hidden when syndicated, or in the International Herald-Tribune?

Do what the Guardian does: charge for the crosswords.

Posted by: ahem | May 17, 2005 3:23:08 PM

fling93: The blogosphere with all its warts is still much more of a meritocracy than the journalism industry.

ahem: LOL. Snort. Powerline? Insta-I-was-here-first-pundit?

I did say "more of a meritocracy" and not "a meritocracy." Of course, if you prefer the Maureen Dowds of the world and want to see them keep getting their paychecks, go ahead and waste your money.

Posted by: fling93 | May 17, 2005 3:30:40 PM

I subscribe to The New Republic online because I like the commentary and book reviews, and The Wall Street Journal online for Walt Mossberg and the front page stories, and Salon because it's fairly cheap and something is worth reading in there every couple of weeks. I actually subscribed to Slate during its short-lived paid-subscription period, again because I thought Kinsley, Shafer, Weisberg, Noah etc are worth paying for. So my guess is I'll probably subscribe to the NYTimes columnists and archives, although I must say 50 bucks seems high. I don't blame the Times for starting somewhere, and seeing what people will pay for. I think it's an interesting experiment.

Posted by: Richard Riley | May 17, 2005 3:33:27 PM

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