A while back in "Create Permanent Links to the New York Times" (2007-02-19) and "Easier New York Times Linking" (2007-02-26), I shared techniques for creating permanent links to articles in the New York Times, since there was a legitimate method of providing permanent access to articles that would otherwise roll into the for-fee TimesSelect service. Such fussing around is no longer necessary, since the New York Times has stopped charging for access to parts of its Web site as of midnight on 19-Sep-07. With the exception of some articles (it wasn't made clear which ones) from 1923 to 1986, the archives are now freely available and easily linked to.
The TimesSelect service, started two years ago, charged $49.95 per year, or $7.95 per month, for access to older articles in the newspaper's archives, along with access to the work of 23 editorial columnists. TimesSelect had 227,000 paying subscribers and contributed about $10 million in revenue. However, the company reportedly felt that there was more chance for growth in the online advertising space. The site receives about 13 million unique visitors each month, many coming in from search engines like Google and Yahoo, but those visitors were often prevented from seeing the results of their searches if the articles in question had moved into TimesSelect since being indexed. The belief is that the increased Web traffic will result in ad revenues that will outweigh the loss of the TimesSelect subscriptions. Anyone who has paid in advance for TimesSelect will be refunded a prorated percentage of the subscription fee.
Charging for access to old articles is a tricky business. The article announcing the change notes that the Financial Times charges for select articles, and that the Los Angeles Times tried and quickly dropped an experiment with charging for content in 2005. For such an approach to succeed, the publication must have a large enough number of subscribers and content that is both sufficiently interesting after it's no longer current and sufficiently unique that it can't be found for free elsewhere. Of major U.S. newspapers, only the Wall Street Journal has managed to maintain a policy of charging for content, racking up nearly one million paying subscribers and $65 million in revenue. The popular cooking magazine Cook's Illustrated has long restricted access to its archives, and closer to home, the MacFixIt troubleshooting site restricts access to older articles to MacFixIt Pro subscribers. It will be interesting to see if this policy continues, now that CNET has purchased MacFixIt's parent TechTracker.
And TidBITS? We're not opposed to the concept of readers paying for content, but we're under no illusions that we have enough readers or that our content is sufficiently unique to ever restrict access to our archives. And while we can't compete with the massive archive of the New York Times, in the Macintosh world, our old articles may be the only coherent record of the past 17 years. As other worthy publications - most notably MacUser and MacWEEK - have faded away, their archives have disappeared as well. So if you want to research the early days of the Macintosh online, feel free to poke around in our archive, perhaps even starting with our very first issue. (Of course, the downside is that looking back at my early writing is truly mortifying. But I'll deal. Just try not to laugh too hard next time you see me at Macworld.)