I don’t know if the scheme is going to work this time. I definitely hope it does. Early results are encouraging. The number of paid digital subscribers already surpassed 100K within three weeks of the global launch of the scheme. The question is whether this model is enough for The Times’ future viability. I think the Times needs to focus on the “Trust Market” rather the “Information Market” to survive. According to the Nieman Journalism Lab center, “Trust” not “Information” is the scarce resource. If the Times is in the Trust business, it should also consider packaging and selling its content to businesses for decision making in a similar way that Bloomberg and Reuters do today.
There is no doubt that the new digital landscape has democratized access to information. No longer do news organizations hold an oligopoly. A competitive market has driven the price of “information” down to free levels. However, not all information is the same. Trusted information, especially if served in a combination of interactive data, analysis and storytelling formats, carries a premium.
For instance, Bloomberg and Reuters are profitable companies. Bloomberg provides free access to its news and reporting businesses, Businessweek and Bloomberg News. However, Bloomberg also monetizes by selling financial data through its trade terminals. Reuters follows a similar business model. These companies realize that the value lies not in the content but in how it is served. The Times also needs to move in this direction. This is a huge opportunity, as most media companies focus primarily on reach. The Times can become a provider of data and analysis for social, economic and political issues. This does not means that the newspaper side won’t continue to exist. It just means that advertising and newspaper subscription is not the only way to monetize and survive in this digital economy.