In an anonymously sourced piece yesterday, The New York Post said that The New York Times has decided to shut down its subscription-based online service TimesSelect. The service closes off the paper's popular Op-Ed columnists and archives to people who've paid a $50-per-year fee (people who subscribe to the print paper and college students with a .edu address get TS for free).
"After much internal debate, Times executives -- including publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. -- made the decision to end the subscription-only TimesSelect service but have yet to make an official announcement, according to a source briefed on the matter," the Post said.
This may be so -- but my interviews with also-on-background Times staffers cast a shadow on the news. Rumors of an impending TimesSelect shut-down have been circulating around the paper's offices for at least a year; if management has decided now to close the service, they have not yet alerted Op-Ed columnists of their decision.
Why would the paper choose to close TimesSelect? Money! The service has attracted slightly more than 220,000 customers. At $50 each, that's $11 million. In recent months the number of subscribers has been falling, though, and the ad business on the Web is booming. The Times is likely looking at all the readers it's losing because of TS. If it gets rid of the service, its columns -- which, pre-TS, were among the paper's most popular Web fare -- will ride high again, attracting millions more readers and, thus, a great deal more in Web advertising.
Bloggers are rejoicing over the possibility (for folks on the left and the right, Maureen Dowd is worth about a dozen posts a week, typically). Personally, I won't miss TS, but as a subscriber, I don't think it's a bad deal.
The paper's archives go back to 1851. Fifty dollars is a very small price to pay to read such dispatches as the special report from the Battle of Antietam. (Headline: "BATTLE OF ANTIETAM CREEK. Full Particulars from Our Special Correspondent. The Most Stupendous Struggle of Modern Times. The Battle Won by Consummate Generalship. The Rebel Losses Estimated as High as Thirty Thousand.")