Free Access to New York Times

The New York Times has announced it will stop charging for access to its site at midnight Monday. What’s interesting about this is the Times’ claim it will generate more revenue from ad sales than from online subscriptions.

But even more revealing is the power of search engines to drive users to the site. The Times says users coming by way of search engines did not ante up fees for information. But they represent an opportunity and the hope is they will stay longer if the site is free. This will generate more page views which, in turn, will result in more revenue from advertising.

The Times joins CNN and the BBC providing free access after having attempted paid subscriptions for premium information. If it holds, this bodes well for access to information on the net.

Recently, I was searching for information on organizational management and discovered one article I wanted was behind the pay wall of three or four sites. I didn’t pay. I found what I needed from free sites and probably won’t go back to the fee-based sites. Fees are bad for Internet information providers in a couple of ways. Users who don’t have a critical need for information won’t pay for it, and those sites that charge are likely to find that fees turn people off. They don’t encourage subscriptions, they encourage defection.

The Internet, as the Cluetrain Manifesto made clear many years ago, runs on smart markets. They are formed and reacting to what corporations are doing. In this case, the Times has listened. This move will be watched to see of this free access delivers new revenue.

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