With all the renewed talk of charging for content, damn it, there is too little reference to the experience the news industry has: TimesSelect. We know how many subscribers they had and how much revenue came in but it would be a tremendous mitzvah to the news business and journalism if The Times would open up its TimesSelect books and let us know exactly the business details of the shuttered experiment in paid content. This would allow the discussion about the relative net value of paid subscribers vs. free readers occur with more information. Among the things I’d like to see:
* Number of subscribers by type — fully paid, free-with-subscription, free-education — and how much each paid.
* Renewal rates (though experience with that will be limited).
* Subscriber acquisition costs, with conversion rates in marketing.
* Retention marketing costs.
* Customer-service costs.
* CPMs for advertising to paid users.
* Traffic patterns after TimesSelect was stopped: how many incremental users and pageviews.
* CPMs for advertising to free users.
* Google rank of Times and Times features before and after TimesSelect – and traffic to The Times through Google in both periods.
The Times wouldn’t really be releasing treasured secrets; it’s not charging now. But by releasing this data for others to analyze, it would be doing the industry a huge service.
Indeed, I believe that other companies that have experimented with different models should release similar stats. In most cases, they don’t have competitors. And the more we learn as an industry, the better. As part of the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY, I’m happy to play host for this data. We need to get real about specifics in the discussion of business models. I am among those who have been talking in theories and possibilities and I want to see spreadsheets.