I've seen quite a bit of chatter along the lines of this post on LISNews celebrating the demise of Times Select: "The message many companies are learning? People expect the Web to be free."
Quite exhilarating for those who (like Chuck, the commenter on that post) who "have been in the free information business all along." Pity that it's the wrong message.
Those who actually bother to read the article announcing the change will see that, in fact, a third of the Times' online subscribers, nearly a quarter of a million people, were willing to pay for that content. Times Select didn't fail because people expect the web to be free. It didn't fail at all.
People have short memories. It was only a few years ago that it was a truism that "nobody has figured out how to make money off the internet except for Amazon and the porn producers." Lots of people were trying to figure out how to make advertising work on the web and nobody was making much money from it.
Google changed that. Somebody finally figured out how to make, not just some money, but a ton of money from online advertising. Ad people are smart and quick, and they've been learning fast. The NYT didn't pull the plug on Times Select because it was a failure -- they did it because the terrain has changed and online advertising models have matured to the point where they now have confidence that they can make a lot more money by selling ads than by selling the content directly.
This has nothing to do with some idealistic belief that "people expect the web to be free." (Except, of course, in the trivial sense that all people always would rather get things free than pay for them -- but this has nothing to do with the web.)
What fascinates me is that none of this will change the minds of those who believe that it "was a loser of a strategy to begin with." It doesn't matter if Times Select was successful according to the measures set by those who ran it. To those who believed that it was antithetical to their view of how the web works it was a failure of an idea to being with, it would always be a failure (no matter how much money it pulled in), and the fact that the Times has made this change is clear evidence that it was a bad idea and that they were right all along. (And I guess those 227,000 subscribers are weird abberations who simply are not behaving the way people are supposed to behave... on the web.)
For the record, I was really disappointed when Times Select was introduced. I thought it was a bad idea, I didn't think it would work, I never signed up and I'm surprised at how good the final numbers turned out to be. I'm glad they've made the change. I just don't think it proves that information must be free, and that people won't pay for content. I think it proves that I was wrong.
But I am starting to get pretty annoyed at that full page American Express ad that I have to wade through now, every time I want to check the news.