Saturday, April 2, 2011

Press-release journalism and the NYT's lost default setting

As I've mentioned before, much of what we've heard about the NYT paywall makes me wonder if they've really thought things through. The following link from Mark Thoma raised yet another question:

Microsoft Accusing Google of Antitrust Violations -

Most shorter news stories, particularly those based on press conferences, released statements or other publicly available information, are pretty much interchangeable with respect to provider. The version you get from the New York Times will be essentially identical to the ones from the Washington Post or the LA Times or NPR or any other major outlet.

The New York Times traditionally got a disproportionate share of the traffic for these stories because it had become something of a default setting. This traffic meant increased ad revenue. Perhaps more importantly, it brought people into the site where they could be introduced to other, less interchangeable features (for example, the film reviews of A.O. Scott or the columns of Frank Rich). These features are the basis of a loyal readership.

I'm sure that the models Sulzberger and company are using take into account the fact that traffic will drop when you put the paywall into effect. Having worked on some major corporate initiatives, I can tell you that is not the sort of thing that is likely to be omitted. What is, however, often left out is the necessary disaggregation. For example, even in well-run Fortune-500 businesses, you will often run across analyses that correctly predict that a change will cause a net gain of ten percent of market share but fail to note that most of the established customers you will lose are highly profitable while most of those you're going to gain aren't worth having.

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