Tearing Down the Wall at the NYTimes.com

It was great to hear earlier this week that the NY Times is considering killing their Select premium program by providing open access to their top columnists.

This is something I’ve written about before. My concern with the Select program was the negative effect it would have on their top columnists. My impression is that people like Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd aren’t living check to check on their columnist salaries, so are likely motivated by other factors. And those factors include the power and influence that comes from being published in one of the world’s most respected newspapers.

Being widely read leads to power and influence, which then leads to TV appearances, which leads to book deals, which lead to speaking engagements. So limiting exposure hurts the indirect income potential of top columnists.

Subscriptions to Select appear to have leveled off at a level that’s proven the experiment to be worth killing. This could be due to disappointing revenue from the program. Or, perhaps it’s due to an increased understanding of the value derived from link equity. Influential columnists write great link bait when they’re taking on powerful people with their keyboards. Links lead to traffic and advertising opportunities, and further boosts the credibility of the online property as a whole.

The Wall Street Journal Perspective

The Wall Street Journal faces a similar issue. While Rupert Murdoch has a knack for making money, it’s pretty clear that he’s also driven by the political influence he’s able to generate from his media properties. With that in mind, he may be willing to walk away from the suggested $65 million in subscription revenue the WSJ pulls in today in exchange for the additional influence the online property could generate if it provided open access to all readers in an ad supported model.

It’s tough to influence who’ll be the next presidential nominee from behind a pay wall.

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