Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You think Op-Ed columns grow on trees?

Remember the scene in Trading Places when Dan Aykroyd's character is trying to hock his $6,000 Swiss watch in a pawn shop? What does the pawnbroker say to him?

"In Philadelphia, it's worth 50 bucks."

Would you pay 50 bucks a year to read the New York Times op-ed page online? Beginning in September, you'll have to. Reading Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, and Paul Krugman is gonna cost you, Jack.

I suppose the luxury of reading newspapers like the NY Times and Washington Post online for free is something we've all taken for granted. Newspapers need to make money, just like any other business. But I think this move will end up backfiring and result in fewer readers checking out the op-ed page.

Andrew Sullivan sums it up nicely on his blog:

"By sectioning off their op-ed columnists and best writers, they are cutting them off from the life-blood of today's political debate: the free blogosphere. Inevitably, fewer people will link to them; fewer will read them; their influence will wane faster than it has already. The blog is already becoming a rival to the dated op-ed column format as a means of communicating opinion journalism. My bet is that the NYT's retrogressive move will only fasten the decline of op-ed columnists' influence."

I'd probably read the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page regularly if it didn't require a $80 yearly subscription fee. Something I do pay for (somewhat reluctantly) is Salon, though I think the site really hurts itself by charging $30 a year to read most of its content. I'd link to its articles a hell of a lot more if I knew everyone could read them. (Speaking of Salon, here's its take on the story, by Farhad Manjoo.) Ultimately, I pay the $30 because I enjoyed its coverage, columnists, and overall politics back when it was free and didn't want to miss out.

Obviously, the New York Times is hoping plenty of its readers feel the same way about its columnists. I don't think I'm among them, however. Maureen, David, Paul, and Thomas - it's been fun - especially when you rip ol' George W. But come September, I'll wait to see what the blogs have to say about your stuff - if they're willing to pay to read you.