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January 10, 2005

BUSINESS WEEK looks at the future of the New York Times, which doesn't seem terribly bright. Steve Sturm has further thoughts.

At any rate, the Bush Administration -- and Republicans generally -- should be overjoyed to hear that the NYT is considering turning its web edition into a pay-only site, a sort of oversized Salon.com:

Advertising accounts for almost all of the digital operation's revenues, but disagreement rages within the company over whether NYTimes.com should emulate The Wall Street Journal and begin charging a subscription fee. Undoubtedly, many of the site's 18 million unique monthly visitors would flee if hit with a $39.95 or even a $9.95 monthly charge. One camp within the NYT Co. argues that such a massive loss of Web traffic would cost the Times dearly in the long run, both by shrinking the audience for its journalism and by depriving it of untold millions in ad revenue. The counterargument is that the Times would more than make up for lost ad dollars by boosting circulation revenue -- both from online fees and new print subscriptions paid for by people who now read for free on the Web.

Sulzberger declines to take a side in this debate, but sounds as if he is leaning toward a pay site. "It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free," he says. "That is troubling."

I don't know whether it would make money, but the Times would lose a lot of influence if it made this move, since it would only be talking to the true believers. Send Pinch Sulzberger one of these, pronto! Maybe two . . . .