Dear NYT: We Need to Talk

Paul Ollinger, a former Facebook executive, is the founder of Banner Ad Confidential, a satirical site that pokes fun at digital media and technology. The following originally appeared on Banner Ad Confidential, and is reproduced with Paul’s permission. Check out Banner Ad Confidential for more. Follow it on Twitter @BA_Confidential.

We need to talk. Yes, like that.

Look, I’m tired of the charade. Or the dance. Whatever you want to call it, we do it every 30 days, and I’m over it.

Each month you give me ten free articles to read, and I chip away at them, knowing that each click costs me 10% of my free allocation of content (see how I did the math there?). Then you tell me that the most interesting parts of your digital anatomy are off-limits. It’s a move right out of high-school dating.

Truth is, I want a relationship with you. Indeed, I want to pay you!

Before you start celebrating, know this: it’s not the relationship you’re asking for.
You want me to go from spending $0 for 120 articles/year (or as I like to call it, “second base”) to spending $450/year for complete digital access. That is definitely full-fledged adult intercourse. And while it may be consensual, I’m pretty sure I’m the one on the receiving end.

To avoid this extortionate sum, I do all kinds of crazy stuff: I use multiple browsers, I clear my cache, or log-on via different devices. Hell, in an emergency I’ll even read The Post.

These behaviors signify a seriously-troubled relationships (like those I have had in the real world, but without the restraining orders). So while you’re asking me to commit 100% to you, I’m going to keep seeing other people.

Hey, why are you crying?

This is bigger than both of us. Literally. Our relationship has to be viewed in the broader context of news and information in a mobile world where the amount of content approaches the infinite.
The milk is pretty much free, so there’s no need to buy the cow.

No, I am NOT calling you “a cow.” It’s a metaphor.

Here’s another one – digital news is a global key party, and we all get to swing, baby. So while you are beautiful and stunning and lovely, there are almost infinite fish in the sea.

No, I did not just call you a commodity! That may be what you heard, but that’s not what I said.

Please hear me when I say that you are a total babe. You are grand, venerated and historical. You got more Pulitzers than Kristof’s got Pulitzers. Wait, I told that wrong.

Either way…the point here is that I love your product.

Your coverage of film, the arts and fashion are amazing. I have huge man crushes on Thomas Friedman and David Brooks (also a total babe). I’ll even hold my nose all the way through the occasional Maureen Dowd article. And I hear that crossword puzzle of yours is pretty darn popular.

You are rich, magnificent, and splendorous. I pine for you.

But you’ve got baggage. And you’re asking me to pay for it.

You’re crippled by ex-lovers that go by the name ”printing presses,” ”dead trees,” and “fleets of Teamster-driven trucks.” I don’t fault you for these previous relationships, but don’t ask me to pay your alimony.

I know, I know – you can’t just let me pay for what I want without letting all your customers pay for what they want. That’s why old media baggage sucks so bad. You should call Time-Warner Cable and cry it out over a latte.

But that’s kind of your problem, not mine. Which makes your all-or-nothing attitude even harder to understand. You are painting me into a corner, giving me the choice to be either a philandering jerk or a total sap. It belittles us both.

Yes, there is some precedent for you asking. I do pay Spotify $10/month, I rarely use its competitors’ service, and I have no plans to switch (until Apple inevitably walks into the room and starts making eyes at me). But that’s because Spotify satisfies 90% of my music-related needs. They’ve also suckered me into sharing all my musical tastes with them such that I’ve raised my own switching costs significantly.

When it comes to news, I want to consume a multitude of diverse opinions and sources. I pick what my friends share on Twitter, Facebook, Newsle or whatever Jason Hirschhorn says I should be reading. I want to readVanity Fair, The New Yorker, Michael Wolff, Andrew Sullivan, TechCrunch, Mashable, Business Insider,Digiday, Daily Beast, Salon, Slate, The Onion, and Huffington Post (and those are just the browser tabs I have open right now…no wonder my laptop crashes constantly).

Hell, in this new world of journalism, Henry Blodgett will read the paper for me and spoon-feed it to me in pre-chewed info-graphic bites while I make little-baby gurgling sounds and fall asleep in his warm digital arms.

Get the picture?

You’re in a tough situation that I do not envy. You have to make some money off of me to pay your team of rockstar journalists. I know you’ve tried other models. Make me watch a video ad every five articles? Even at a healthy $50 CPM, that’s $.05 you get paid for my view, or $.01 for every article I’ve consumed.

Those are some ugly economics right there.

Can it be any wonder why Demand Media pays its writers a mere $15 per article?

We have a choice to make: we can either continue this silly dance, or you allow me to pay as I go. Let me buy a $50 or $100 credits and charge them off for $.25 per article. If you charge me from article 11, and I triple the number of articles I read, that’s (20*$.25) or $5/month, $60/year from me.

I know this isn’t a new idea, and you likely can’t make it work across all of your customers without radical cuts to your legacy business. But it’s inevitable. Moreover, it’s my best offer.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not me. It’s you.


Image via Shutterstock

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