Between reading John Darnton fiction about the demise of the NYTimes and the thoughts attributed to Times Esecutive Editor Bil Keller, I am constrained to keep talking about what I believe to be the only viable solution longterm to supporting an economy which is increasingly dependent of “The Web” for revenue.
The two business models attributed to Keller are
1. A nonprofit model which would make the Times essentially dependent on the largesse of both readers and philanthropy — AKA foundations.
2. Charging readers of the online version in some form or fashion.
Both of these ideas have merit. The first would turn the Times into a Public TV sort of model in which this series might be brought to you by the Annenberg Foundation or General Electric. The second would be biting the bullet and seeing just how many would actually pay up to read Nick Kristof and David Sanger and Katharine Q. Seelye and so forth.
I think both have flaws. The first assumes that the current established structures will continue to have resources to support the likes of the Times. That’s shaky. The second is an open invitation to all manner of piracy. Note that music will ultimately make its living online but that most music remains pirated or shared depending on your POV. Pirating the paid NYTimes would create a conflict, not a profitable enterprise.
The failsafe answer is already a model in one place or another and should be considered as a better alternative for ALL creative content on the Web. Face it, that is where everything will be. Including any currently healthy offline print media. The houses are falling and it is really a predictable collapse.
The answer lies in a royalty system that rewards all diligent entities and persons who spend time and energy posting content to the Web. The NYTimes is right up there because it pays reporters around the world to do serious digging and seeks with middling success to offer salient commentary as well. Its royalties would be based on its traffic plus its salience, judged by some acceptable standard. Income would be funneled through ISPs and distributed according to an accepted formula.
Under such a system even folk as low on the totem pole as I could be paid for what I now do for free. Even commenters could get paid. People who merely copy material from other sources could be identified and receive considerably less than those sites where a post originated. In short the Web could do what its technology is best at, crunching numbers, organizing things and distributing micro-amounts so that every user would ultimately be paying for what he or she actually uses.
The way to operate this would be to exclude profitable business plans from this largesse. If Netflix or Napster manages with their pay plans there is no reason to pay them more.
Once this financial floor was accepted and ISPs apportioned a segment of their revenues to a paying entity, all of the other business models would be able to function alongside this. And those who would prefer not to mess with advertising and philanthropy would have a nice alternative — user supported content payment.