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Solution to Times Layoffs: Start Charging for Web Content. Now.

Commenters on paper’s blog post about cutbacks say they’re willing to pay.

“Well, there is a solution to layoffs — start charging for online content, I’d pay … seriously. Why not?”

That was the first comment, by “Eric,” posted on the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog about the latest round of layoffs to hit the paper’s newsroom. (Executive editor Bill Keller made the announcement Monday afternoon – see his e-mail here.)

Quite a few of the 557 comments (and counting) on the Times’ story echoed this sentiment (by Mediaite’s count, 32 percent of them.)

The comments on the post are serving as a sort of free paid content focus group and, perhaps unwittingly, a think tank for potential online business models for the Times to pursue.

Like this one, from “Harlan”:

Here’s my idea: I don’t want have to decide *before* I read an article whether I want to pay for it, I want to decide *after*. To that end, I propose the following micropayment system. If I want to get content from a consortium of providers (say, anything owned by The New York Times Company, or Time-Warner, or Seed Media Group, or a group of publishers that set up their own consortium), I set up an account, pay my $50/year, and get access. If I like a piece of content (article, podcast, interactive graphic, whatever), I click the “Tip the Author(s)” button, and a chunk of my $50, maybe 10 cents, gets redirected to the actual people creating the content I actually like (not just start to read). If I don’t use up my $50 for the year, it just gets split internally by the consortium. This way, readers have control over where the money goes and get to associate “paying money” with “feeling good about what they read”, providers get cash, and the best providers get the most cash.

Another commenter put it this way:

“[P]ut this damn site behind a pay wall already. jesus christ – STOP GIVING AWAY YOUR EXCELLENT CONTENT FOR FREE – its that simple!”

But, as “Bill Mills” pointed out, “a few thousand people paying for the web version won’t keep the Times (or any newspaper) afloat. The problem is that without print readership, ad rates have tanked. Ad rates per eyeball on the web will never be what they were for print.”

For those of you into monitoring the great debate over paid content, the whole thing is a fascinating read.