Eyeballs alone won’t pay the bills

January 26, 2010

Are newspapers going to have to choose between traffic and revenue?

There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth recently about how the New York Times’ plans to charge frequent site visitors for content are a slap in the face to social media. By establishing a paywall, the argument goes, the Times is shielding its content from valuable links from outside sources (i.e., blogs, Twitter, Digg, etc.). Those links attract significant traffic to nytimes.com.

But what good are site visits if they aren’t generating enough revenue to cover the site’s operating costs? Nearly everyone agrees that quality journalism is important and that it’s in short supply, but no one knows how to convince people to pay for it online. Fewer online readers may make more business sense, if those readers are paying customers, even if it means lower readership overall.

(It’s important to note that the Times plan won’t necessarily interfere with social media links, but it might deter them.)

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