Columnists for sale.

Columnists for sale.

Columnists for sale.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
May 17 2005 1:34 PM

Columnists for Sale

The New York Times's risky experiment.

The New York Times is going to start charging people to read its op-ed columnists online. This will be part of a service called TimesSelect, which will cost $49.95. Customers will also receive access to the Times archives along with a few "Webby" features (audio and photo essays, video, etc.) that sound fairly disposable.

I applaud the Times' experiment, but I don't feel that it goes far enough. One of the novel and slightly terrifying things about publishing a magazine or newspaper on the Web, as compared to print, is that you can measure the popularity of individual articles or, over time, the popularity of individual writers. I propose that the Times incorporate this knowledge into its pricing mechanism.

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The two things of genuine value that TimesSelect will offer are access to the Times archive and access to the columnists. Let's assume that half the value of TimesSelect resides with the access to the archive. That leaves about $25 for access to the columnists. An even allocation would set the subscription price for a year's worth of any given columnist's work at $3.13. But the Times' regular op-ed columnists are—let's face it—a pretty uneven bunch. There are some Times columnists for whom I'd be willing to shell out $18 or $19, and other columnists on whom I wouldn't spend a dime.

I'm not going to name names.

Instead, I'm going to take a survey. Readers are invited to allocate $25 among the Times' eight regular op-ed columnists. I will then post the averages. The deadline is 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT today (May 17). The fast turnaround is to prevent any interest groups (or the columnists themselves) from waging any organized voting efforts. Entries in which the eight individual dollar figures don't add up to $25 will be disqualified.

The columnists are:

Let the voting begin. Send entries to chatterbox@slate.com.