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NY Times' Brave Change: Opening Archives

In “A Letter to Readers About TimesSelect, the paper writes:

Effective Sept. 19, we are ending TimesSelect. All of our online readers will now be able to read Times columnists, access our archives back to 1987 and enjoy many other TimesSelect features that have been added over the last two years – free.

Glad to see that the Times is putting its great cast of columnists more firmly back into the public conversation than they’d been behind the pay-wall. That’s excellent news for the writers and the readers.

The second part of this shift may actually be more important. The Times is opening its archives, or at least the past 20 years worth.

Presumably, each article will have a perma-link. If so, watch what happens. The Times’ stories — many of which are definitive moments of journalism — will become the de facto primary sources for people around the Web, and around the world. On topic after topic, the Times story (or stories) will move near or to the top of the search engine rankings. They will become more valuable for keyword and other advertising once people click through to the actual stories.

The Times clearly gets this. From the letter:

Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.

About two and a half years ago, I joined Doc Searls and others in calling on newspapers to open their archives, for exactly these reasons. A senior online executive at the Times subsequently assured me that I was delusional if I thought the paper would ever do this, given the revenues it was attracting selling archived articles one at a time.

We won’t know for some time whether this experiment proves financially valuable beyond the utterly essential value the Times is offering to people who care about journalism. Needless to say, I believe it will.

I hope other newspapers will follow the Times’ lead, and do it quickly.

(Disclosure: I own a small amount of NY Times Co. stock. It is currently worth less than I paid for it.) 

10 Comments on “NY Times' Brave Change: Opening Archives”

  1. #1 Hans Suter
    on Sep 18th, 2007 at 2:19 am

    “About two and a half years ago,” at the same time I asked Martin Wolf of the Financial Times the same question and got the same answer. So today I asked him again. That’s his answer: Watch this space! Martin Wolf .

  2. #2 Jon Garfunkel
    on Sep 18th, 2007 at 3:10 am

    All true, but remember that the Times is getting an average, per print subscriber, of $500 in subsciption fees and $1000 in advertising to reach that subscriber. No one has any solid numbers on how that will be replaced.

    Ad revenue in the “Other” category was $4m in August (I presume that’s from NYT.com). We’ll see how the Sept. and Oct. numbers come out.

    As for missing from the public conversation, of the snapshots of BlogPulse during TimesSelect, the Times columnists were still leading their counterparts at the WaPo, WSJ, etc. I presumed that most leading bloggers either (a) subscribe to the print Times, (b) bought into TimesSelect, or (c) found other means to read the columns that interested them.

    While this may signal the end of tiered content for paying subscribers, it shouldn’t close the door on tiered offerings. As a paying subscriber, I’d still like *some* online benefit, like less intrusive ads or unmoderated comment posting. Mobile users sure as heck should start demanding the former.

  3. #3 NYT Retires TimesSelect Pay Wall » netZoo.net | WOOZradio
    on Sep 18th, 2007 at 3:28 am

    [...] NYT;s letter to readers — the Pay Wall comes down at midnight EDT on the 19th. Also, Gillmor, Jarvis, and Ingram [...]

  4. #4 Undercurrent
    on Sep 18th, 2007 at 7:10 am

    End of an experiment, start of another at the NYT…

    So the rumours/unnamed sources had it right: The New York Times really is dropping Times Select. Not only that, they will also open their archives all the way back to 1987. From the announcement letter: Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online…

  5. #5 Karl
    on Sep 18th, 2007 at 10:23 am

    About time :)

  6. #6 Rollo
    on Sep 18th, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    At last. I will now go to NYT’s site to see what this Krugman guy has to say. If I really wanted to, I could have found out already without paying a cent. But I didn’t, and so NYTimes gained nothing and lost a reader into the bargain. And that is the point.

  7. #7 MediaChannel.org
    on Sep 19th, 2007 at 10:00 am

    [...] Dan Gillmor thinks they will do very well there: Presumably, each article will have a perma-link. If so, watch what [...]

  8. #8 Bill Densmore
    on Sep 19th, 2007 at 6:32 pm
  9. #9 Richard Farrell : If You Can’t Fight ‘Em, Join ‘Em: The New York Times Shuts Down Times Select
    on Sep 21st, 2007 at 9:27 am

    [...] Dan Gilmor’s commentary on this move, click here. Posted by Richard Farrell on Friday, September 21, 2007, at 9:26 am, and filed under The return [...]

  10. #10 Gene Koo
    on Sep 21st, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I’m not being facetious when I say that one of the benefits of Times Select was taking Maureen Dowd, et.al. off the “most emailed” lists. In the age of the blogosphere, I find their paid pundits no more informative, and far less timely and relevant, than their blogger counterparts. When I go to the Times, I want to read news and smart analysis, not polemics, so — minor as it might seem — filtering them out was a nice side-effect of the content wall.

    Access to the archives far outweighs this small, unintended, benefit, of course.