The End of The NYTimes As We Know It
The New York Times recently announced that it would be offering online higher education courses. Evidently, the traditional media giant realizes it needs to change the way it does business. This announcement was then followed by New York Magazine’s report that the NYTimes would soon be charging for online content. Perhaps being an esteemed online publisher won’t be enough in the near future.
Today’s most respected companies are ones that are born from the Internet – Amazon, Netflix, and Zappos. However, these businesses are far from remarkable. They sell or rent stuff on the Internet and make money. The difference between these online companies and ones born outside of the web is that their base business model is second to the consumer. The consumer first appreciates their continued commitment towards innovation, transparency, and community.
The NYTimes is in a fortunate position where its brand is highly credible. To some, a journalist who has the NYTimes under his belt is more credentialed than a blogger. Of course, many bloggers are earning ranks but it is still different. It’s difficult to weigh popular local bloggers against NYTimes journalists who are preserving the “long form” in Haiti or the Middle East.
The NYTimes understands that its brand should welcome participation, knowledge sharing, and build a community of people who are credited NYTimes scholars. If today’s currency is social currency (sharing content that builds your public facing image), then some of the strongest currency you could transact with is the NYTimes. I’d argue that the media giant needs needs to take its brand value outside of its gates by bringing NYTimes knowledge communities to other audiences. Imagine a group of NYTimes scholars invading Yahoo! Message Boards, elevating the level of conversation, and recruiting the average Yahoo! man to jump on the bandwagon. The media outlet needs to earn new audiences and active its current and future ones to act on its behalf.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the NYTimes eventually evolved into a wiki. Its community would be so schooled in journalism, ripe for thought and novelty that they’d be turning out stories left and right. This may sound a lot like citizen journalism, and perhaps it is, but the difference is that this community would be held to the same standards as today’s “traditional journalists.” Misreporting, inaccuracy of any kind would not fly. They would also have more access than a citizen journalist – funding for travel, ability to interview elected officials and so forth.
But with today’s foredooming news that the NYTimes will start charging for online content, my ideal knowledge community might not be. It’s fine to associate cost with status, i.e. buying a degree. But if the lowest level of participation becomes cost, the NYTimes will not become a prosperous digital community. Digital beckons the smallest possible barrier to entry, internet access and literary. Once cost enters the equation, the average lurker is off finding a place where he can lurk for free. Just look at the music industry, enough said.