Friday, September 16, 2005

The Gray Lady Goofs It on Blogs

There's good news and bad news for New York Times pundits like Paul "If I Goof It's Bush's Fault" Krugman and Maureen "Why Can't You People Appreciate My Vapidity?" Dowd.

The Good News: they won't be pilloried, smacked down and made fun of by so many in the blogosphere anymore.

The Bad News: it's because they're going to lose a big chunk of readers.

You see, their employers, the New York Times, have decided that their opinions are so valuable they should be charged money for them:

Beginning Monday, the Times will begin charging $49.95 a year to people who don't get the paper delivered at home for access to those writers as well as other columnists for the Times' business, metro and sports sections.

The new service called TimesSelect will also include access to the Times' archives, early looks at some sections of the paper and online tools for tracking and storing articles from the Times Web site.

So if a blogger wants to smack down MoDo for writing something nasty about Rummy, the blogger needs to shell out fifty bucks U.S. for the privilege of linking to the offending column.

The Globe and Mail has a similar thing going on with their columnists like Jeffrey Simpson and Margaret Wente. I wonder if they realize it's one of the reasons why they're not as discussed in the blogosphere as, say, Mark Steyn.

But here's something the Times and the Globe don't seem to get:

1. Ideas will not be discussed unless they can be accessed.
2. A commentator is more interested in reputation than money. People like Mark Steyn and Andrew Sullivan are famous because they express ideas well, not because they're rich.
3. A presence on the Internet is important because it gives access to ideas.
4. Bloggers who want to discuss the opinion of a commentator will link to a site featuring that opinion, so that blog readers can see for themselves what triggered the discussion.
5. Charging money for access to an opinion means there's less opportunity for the opinion to be discussed, because while people will pay money for information, they're less willing to do so for opinion.
6. Bloggers who are interested in their own influence will not link to sites which inconvenience their readership by restricting access.
7. Therefore, a commentator whose writings are available for free has more potential readership -- and therefore more influence in the realm of ideas -- than a commentator whose writings require paid access.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, understands this:

"It seems to me that it's a fairly narrow market that's going to pay for the privilege of reading columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman and such," said Reynolds.