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Times Goes Free

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After many rumours and crossed fingers (at least on my part), the New York Times has finally bitten the bullet and removed the pay wall from its website. Columnists and other content have finally been set free to find an audience wherever they can — and that’s not all. The site is also removing the pay wall from its newspaper archives going back 10 years.

Not everyone is celebrating the death of Times Select. Former journalist Mark Potts — co-founder of Backfence.com, a “citizen journalism” site that recently shut down — still thinks the pay service was the right idea, but says the newspaper chose to put the wrong content behind the wall. He thinks in-depth and feature coverage should have been charged for instead of columnists.

I happen to think Mark is wrong. In any case, I think allowing bloggers and other sites to link freely to columnists and other writers at the Times will help increase the discussion around the issues the paper writes about, and that will benefit the Times in the long run. It may be hard to prove that case to the CFO with hard numbers, but I still believe it to be true.

If anything, however, I think the decision to remove the pay wall on the archives could be even more important than the removal of Times Select. This is clearly a “long tail” gamble if ever there was one, and it will be interesting to see whether the newspaper can make that work economically. I would suspect that if it even manages to sell a few ads on archived pages, it will exceed the amount of money it made by charging for its archives.

Update:

More on the New York Times decision from the always insightful Mike Masnick at Techdirt, from Scott Karp at Publish2.0, from Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis — who calls it a “cynical act” that was “doomed from the start” — from Jimmy Guterman at O’Reilly and from online media pioneer Scott Rosenberg of Salon. And of course the big question still remains: Will the Wall Street Journal be next?

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