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E&P’s Former Editor Weighs in on the Times’ Pay Wall Plan

Greg Mitchell: “No one should take what they do as a real example for anyone else”

Plenty of pundit reactions to the New York Times’ announcement of a plan to build a pay wall for their website in 2011 have been registered.

They tend to range from “why wait until 2011?” to “this won’t save them” but, generally speaking, acknowledge that it’s a good move in the sense that the Times had to do something.

I asked Greg Mitchell — longtime editor of Editor & Publisher who was told last week by the publication’s new owner that he would not be retained – for his take.

Here’s his e-mailed response:

I’ve been in the minority from the beginning in asserting that pay-for-play online a) is not only worth exploring very seriously and b) might well work, whatever that means, in many cases. This goes double for the Times, of course, and no one should take what they do as a real example for anyone else. I’ve also repeatedly raised the question for the naysayers: Okay, how many profit-making Web-only news outlets can you point to (no fair counting foundation and sugar daddy support)? 

So again, I will predict that the Times’ experiment will do "better" than many predict — but whether it’s "a little" or "a lot" better will be crucial. TimesSelect actually drew a fair number of joiners, but at that time the "naysayers" claimed that "eyeballs" were everything and would drive ever-increasing ad revenue. The Times dropped it for eyeballs and — the ad revenue did not materialize. Now the paper no doubt figures it will lose some, or a lot, of web audience, but willing to go for quality not quantity. Your guess may be as good as mine on what happens but I wouldn’t rule out that they pull it off, especially with taking many months to — possibly — get it right from the start.

More to read:

New York Times’ Plan to Charge Online Raises More Questions Than Answers

It’s Official: New York Times to Charge for Online Content