Thursday, September 20, 2007

WOTW: Vivian Schiller on the failed Times Select

I was reading about the decision by the New York Times to cease their failed Times Select experiment. This was the site where they put their op-ed writers behind a firewall and charged a subscription for access. We all knew this would fail, and that it would marginalize their columnists by removing them from the public discourse. They have lost readership over the past two years, and many of those readers (like me) will not return. We've moved on and are listening to new voices.

What the Times missed when starting their grand experiment was that people's patterns of consumption on the Web were changing? They missed the move to search? I'm going to speculate that there was someone within the Times organization screaming at the top of their lungs about the stupidity of this decision who was summarily ignored. Which brings me to my Whopper Of The Week:

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

“What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” Ms. Schiller said.

Right, when the Times made the decision to firewall their op-ed columnists in September of 2005 you had to be living in a cave to miss the surge in search. The trend was well underway in late 2005. So, we're left to speculate what really happened when they made their decision to go forward in spite of all the trend lines.

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