Why the New York Times decision is so stoopid

The blogosphere continues to pound the New York Times decision to put its opinion op-ed columnists behind a $50-a-year pay firewall starting in September. I’ve already stated that I think it’s dumber than a bucket of hair, because it’ll destroy the paper’s position as influence leader in the new media world. And when all is said and done, power and influence are the purposes of a paper like the Times.

Last month, I wrote an essay called The Web’s Paradox of Power, and I thought it would be useful to republish a section of that here, for it provides real evidence as to why I believe this move by the Times is a mistake.

Take a look at this graph prepared by Technorati founder, Dave Silfry. It ranks inbound links to mainstream media (MSM) and bloggers. The blue bars represent mainstream online news outlets. The red lines equal blogs. At first glance, the MSM is more influential, but some blogs are also well-placed. Remember, though, that this graph represents inbound links, not reach or frequency.

Technorati graph on influence
Click to enlarge

Here’s where the paradox comes in. One doesn’t find influence in the URL world without providing a service to others, for it is the linkers (the bottom) who provide the influence, not those receiving the links. Size doesn’t matter. Only inbound links. In Silfry’s graph, the New York Times online is the most influential. What makes them influential? The bloggers and others who are creating the links. This is not a measure of readership or revenue. It’s a measure of other people thinking enough of what’s being produced (one way or the other) to create a link to it.

The New York Times gives material freely to the bloggers, and the bloggers reward them with influence. This is why the people who run The Times should think very carefully before charging fees or otherwise locking up their content. This is why logical (Modernist) attempts to force demand by restricting access are playing a dangerous game with their online futures. And this is why online media companies need to make their archives freely available as well. Free is the operative word here. Influence is the currency.

Free online access to content is also good business, because money follows influence, even online.

The newspaper will be giving up this position by putting their op-ed writers behind a pay wall. I mean, it’s their op-ed writers, for crying out loud — the people who spell out the issues in which the paper wishes to lead. You couldn’t shoot yourself more in the foot if you were aiming!

UPDATE: The New York Daily News reports that Matt Drudge has dropped his links to columnists at the New York Post, due to the paper’s new online registration. Says Drudge, “My first concern is that readers have access.”

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