Yet another stage of the New York Times’s exploration of paid content options has come to light via Gawker, which has posted the text of two potential content packages, labeled “Silver” and “Gold.” It’s clear these are hypothetical options; Gawker quotes a Times spokesperson as writing them that “It’s very early in the process. We are still in the data collection phase.”
As described in the survey, Silver would be priced at $50 a year and offer benefits called FirstLook (early access to some stories) and BackStory (extra background on some stories), as well as TimesWire (now free) and TimesMachine (an archive service now largely free). You also get some extras including bling (coffee mug, tote bag, baseball cap, or a copy of the New York Times Style Guide) and discounts on photo reproductions and other stuff from the Times store.
At the Gold level, you would pay $150 a year for all of the above plus TimesEvents (preferred access to events organized or sponsored by the Times), and TimesInsider (personal access to some Times writers). The pitch for Gold is “with NYT Gold, you won’t just read the Times, you’ll experience it.”
Silver and Gold sound like packages dreamed up by Times execs who were thinking, “how can we add a couple of layers to the free content we’re putting on the site, and make it look like something some people might pay for?”
And what they came up with was something that resembles how memberships are generally packaged at cultural non-profits like the museums, opera companies and symphony orchestras of New York City, which those Times execs are undoubtedly members of. As a museum member, you might get similar invitations to special events, admission to special exhibits, a chance to meet the curator, behind-the-scenes tours, discounts at the museum store, and so on.
But the Times is not a museum. It’s a business with customers. And rather than creating general access packages that are aimed at all of its customers, the Times should look at the many specific niche interests of its customers and offer packages aimed at as many of those niches as possible. Few people are willing to pay for broad news content, no matter who they get to rub shoulders with, but many people are willing to pay for content relevant to their passions. If the Times asked their customers about that, they’d find that frequent traveler might be willing to buy premium travel content; a film buff might pay for deeper movie content; an avid gardener might pay for specialized horticultural material. The Times should think about a suite of TimesChannels: TimesTravel, Times Tech, TimesGourmet, TimesDesign, TimesGarden, TimesArt, TimesFilm, TimesWeather, TimesPuzzles, TimesBooks, TimesPolitics, TimesFinance, TimesWhatever, each with much deeper content than the free website has, each priced at $50 a year, and each potentially capable of attracting an audience as large as TimesSilver or TimesGold might get.