Why I'm Canceling My Subscription
By Denny Hatch
To: Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., Publisher, The New York Times
Dear Mr. Sulzberger: After 50 years of reading The New York Times, I am—with great regret—canceling my subscription. I can no longer justify spending $600 a year.
I also subscribe to the print edition of The Wall Street Journal and pay an extra $20 for the online edition to take advantage of the magnificent archive service. I'm about to cancel my WSJ print edition and become a pure online subscriber for $60.
For 10 days in February I was at the World Curling Championships in Bismarck, ND, where no New York Times was to be had. Every day for a half hour via AOL, I visited the Web sites for Drudge, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. I got my fill of news—and for free.
Frankly, I love The New York Times. But I rip through it in about 10 minutes a day. Only 3 percent or less of the content interests me. I concur with Rush Limbaugh's dictum that "Trees are a crop to be harvested slowly," but my recycling bin runneth over.
I'm a walking guilt complex about canceling my subscription and because your wonderful home delivery service is staffed by people who are faithfully at my door every day at 4 a.m. I believe strongly in supporting those who work that hard at those gawdawful hours. But let's face it, newsprint is not an efficient method of distributing information. And, alas, the advertising model on the Internet is not working. On Feb. 19, 1998, the online magazine Slate announced that beginning March 9 it would start charging $19.95 to its 25,000 subscribers; the advertising model was simply not paying the bills.
The term for successful Internet advertising is "click-throughs." A promotional message appears on the screen with the instruction, "Click Here For More" or some such line. The viewer who clicks through is taken to another Web site that tries to sell something. Advertisers pay the Web site owner for each click-through.
In traditional direct marketing the measure of success is the number of conversions from leads to actual sales. The new Internet generation has managed to con advertising agencies and their clients into believing that the measure of success is the number of "eyeballs" an advertisement attracts. Bill Bonner, Agora Publishing's founder and a great copywriter, blew that paradigm sky high when he said, "The only bank that takes eyeballs is the eye bank."
Clearly the advertisers on Slate were losing money. They may have gotten click-throughs and eyeballs, but conversions—actual dollars—were not forthcoming. When Slate advertisers discovered their money was better spent elsewhere, the publishers had to do something to meet the payroll. Hence the switch to becoming a paid service. On Feb. 12, 1999, Slate went back to being a free service. As editor Michael Kinsley said a year later to Los Angeles Times reporter David Colker:
Someone had to try it, and we jumped first. We got about 30,000 subscribers, which was not bad, but at the same time we had 400,000 visiting the free part of our site. It just seemed that selling advertising with 400,000 visitors—now almost 3 million—was a better business model than trying to squeeze 19 bucks out of 100,000 subscribers.
But Slate ain't no New York Times, in which you have something very worthwhile you're paying for. And frankly, the advertising model is dreadful. I don't read ads on the Web. The New York Times is being ripped off royally by all who feel that every bit of intellectual property in the world should be free on the Web.
I, too, will be ripping you off, and I'm very uncomfortable about it. I'll be paying $60 a year to The Wall Street Journal for a five-day-a-week paper. I think $100 a year for seven days a week of The New York Times online is fair. It's clean. No newsprint. No ink. No delivery headaches. You should love it! Take my $100, please.
Denny Hatch, contributing editor, consultant and freelance copywriter, is the author of the books "Method Marketing" and "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." He can be reached at www.methodmarketing.com or by e-mail to: email@example.com.
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.