Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content


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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

My personal website has links to my LinkedIn and Google+ pages and you can send e-mail to david [at] thelayaways [dot] com.

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March 30, 2011

Like It's 1998: Some Quick Thoughts on the NY Times Paywall
by David Harrell
The NY Times has flipped the switch, activating its new paywall/digital subscription model and I can't help thinking of 1998, the year that Slate began what turned out to be a short-lived experiment with a subscription model.

At the time, I was part of the small editorial team for Morningstar.com, which had launched the previous year. While that site was (and still is) an investment research and portfolio tracking destination, as opposed to a news/opinion magazine, Slate often came up as an example when we first planned the format and design of our longer articles.

So when Slate first announced its plan to move to a subscription model, it set off hours of discussion with my co-workers about the ethics of sharing your Slate login (keep in mind, this was before the launch of Napster and the large-scale P2P exchange of digital music files). As best as I can recall, we hit upon many of the main arguments, pro and con, that would soon arise with the advent of P2P music sharing: Is it truly theft when it doesn't result in the loss of a sale?, the fact that consumers can easily share physical content such as magazines, books, and CDs (though obviously not concurrently and only with people who are nearby), the challenge of charging for online content when there are numerous free alternatives, and so on.

I held out for a month or so before I finally succumbed and paid -- there was obviously no Twitter workaround and, believe it or not, back then Slate articles frequently came up in conversations with friends. Besides, the annual subscription was only $19.95 and Slate threw in a free umbrella. Then, before my subscription ran out, Slate abandoned the pay model and refunded my balance for the year by sending me a few issues of a now-defunct Web 2.0 magazine.

Thirteen years later, the NY Times is obviously trying to thread several needles at once with its subscription plan by setting a price point that maximizes its subscription revenue while it maintains its search engine rankings by allowing a minimum number of free page views each month. And unlike Slate, the Times serves at least two distinct audiences -- those in the NYC region who would read the paper even if there were no online version, and those of us outside the region who probably wouldn't pay for a daily print subscription if that were our only option. Its digital pricing strategy has to account for the possibility of cannibalizing print subscriptions. (Assuming that those subscriptions are indeed more profitable.)

I truly have no problem with the NY Times charging for access to its website (it'd be hypocritical of me if I did, as my employer derives a fair amount of revenue from the folks who are paying $185 a year for subscriptions to the premium version of Morningstar.com). Yet the cheapest digital-only NY Times subscription, $195 a year, still strikes me as too high.

You can, of course, make a very valid argument that $195 is a relative bargain, especially when compared to a daily print subscription. And I remain somewhat amazed by how eager media consumers are to pay for their hardware (iPods, iPads, and smart phones) yet so reluctant to purchase the content they consume on those devices. But given the ready availability of other quality online news sources (The Washington Post, the BBC, etc.) and the fact that the NY Times paywall appears to be easy enough to get around, I wonder if a subscription price at the premium magazine level (the New Yorker's $40, for example) would generate more total revenue.

For now, I'm going to make do with my 20 free articles each month, plus those I can read via FB and Twitter links. But if the price drops below $50 a year and the Times tosses in a free umbrella, count me in.

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-next-year">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs


    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at Last.fm.



    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/the-space-between">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at Last.fm or Napster.



    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/weve-been-lost">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.



    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website