Category Archives: Wise Elephant

NYT’s future model? We suggest it’s not personalization.

Jason Moriber has been writing insightfully about what might save The New York Times, including personalization. We debated this on his blog and are replaying it for your amusement.


Beyond the ongoing debate over what will eventually happen to newspapers I feel there needs to be some quick pragmatic thinking on what can be done “now.” The quickest changes can be made to print-media’s online sites.

Show me the static content for free. I’ll pay you for the active content … Offer me something you can’t get anywhere else but online – my behavior and my preferences. Don’t sell my data to marketers, sell it to me! Mix the available content and data with my behavior, let me set a few preferences, and you have a paid model.


Very interesting ideas. I debate, though, whether personalization is enough to build a subscription base or loyalty. The idea of 1to1 marketing has been around since Don Peppers in 1991 and never seems to make it as a real business model; Netflix and Amazon try and still fall far short.

The problem is the switching costs to find relevant information are now so low, that as soon as NYT charges – I’ll fly somewhere else, where the same quality content can be had for free.

What I might pay for though is access to the minds of the people writing the stories. Imagine spending $20 a month to be able to converse with the top technology writers at NYT, or perhaps a club of similar top readers interested in the topic. But even that is a tough sell given the ease of setting up other social networks.

The truth is that the content we all love so dear has become a commodity. There is only so much demand; the supply has become almost infinite; as the quantity of supply moves farther and farther to the right on a classic supply-and-demand curve, the price of the good (content) must fall. I suggest that there have always been millions of brilliant minds in the human population out of the billions on the planet; journalism in the past limited our access to these minds, so we perceived that NYT and other top papers had the “few” people needed worth spending to see. But now that I can find you, or anyone else I deem smart or wise or reporting real news that I find useful, I can flow to this huge real supply of intelligence. The profits disappear as the friction between content supply and demand are gone.

As far as the solution? The only one I can see is for the current knowledge empires like NYT to become nonprofits, lock in their brand, and admit that advertising or subscription revenues will no longer be enough for them to survive. Knowledge, like data, has always wanted to be free.