Okay, so we knew it was coming, and we understood why, but we still got a little queasy when we turned over our Times this morning at our doorstep and saw the words "Front Page News" splayed across the bottom, like a cosmic joke.
It's not because we don't approve of money-making schemes. We're capitalists over here at the Nytpicker, and we like the idea that the Times wants to save itself from financial ruin. But as more newspapers turn to the ad-on-the-front-page option, we have to wonder if it's really the most efficient way to stay in business.
A full page ad in the Times costs less than $100,000; how much could a strip on page one bring in? Even if it's more, it's not enough.
Less than two years ago, the Times shrank the paper's size to save a few bucks, and only a few months back it merged its sports and metro sections into other parts of the paper to save a few more. Those decisions obviously didn't do enough to help.
Here's the real flaw in the Times's business plan: It still costs $1.50 a day at the newsstand. Seriously, $1.50 for the entire New York Times? That's insane. We pay more for a bottle of Sprite.
We're a bunch of philosophy majors, but wouldn't it make more business sense for the Times to simply raise its newsstand and home delivery price on the print edition, instead of trying to trim the costs of the product it produces? Let's face it, many home-delivery subscribers -- wackos like us, lazy sots who pay for the privilege of having the Times waiting for us at the front door every morning -- represent the phenomenon economists call "the inelasticity of demand." (At least we think that's what it was called, we weren't taking very good notes in college.)
Anyway, the point is this: we'll keep getting the Times in print form no matter what. We're addicted.
So why not acknowledge that reality, and charge twice the price for a print version of the Times? That way the wonks who want to see the Times rub off on their pants can subsidize the costs of the paper's swanky, free website. And that way the Times doesn't have to keep coming up with new ways to squeeze dollars out of an increasingly less-viable business model.
So we're not sad to see an ad on the front page this morning. We're just frustrated to see nips here and tucks there that won't mean nearly enough pennies to pay off the company's $672 million in bank debt.
It's time for Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to acknowledge that the print version of the Times is a premium product, like a reserve bottle of good wine, and start charging an appropriate price. It's no insult to readers to require them to pay for what they get, but it denigrates them to see their paper degraded by short-sighted business decisions.
In summary, here's our plan to save the Times: Double the price of the print edition, and pray.