I have a little media fantasy. Several, actually, but this is the big one, the one in which I get to assemble, as if I were putting together a new laptop, my ideal of a cable system.
I’d get to look at that vast array of choices, and I’d get to pick exactly what I want delivered straight to my televisions: Food Network and Cooking Channel, yes; MSG and Versus, yes; Tennis Channel, yes; PBS and BBC America, yes; NY1, yes. CNN, no; Disney Channel, no; CNBC, no; Oxygen and Lifetime, no and no.
And this path to cable bliss would lead right to my Time Warner bill, which would magically, beautifully go down, because I’d have to pay for only the channels that I actually watch.
In some ways, I feel like the new New York Times pay wall is in a “pay for what you consume” mold. You get 20 free articles a month, and after that, you have to pay for what you read: all-digital, unlimited access (computer, smart phone, iPad, etc.) is $8.75 a week; less expensive, more restricted options are also available.
As a writer whose work is often published digitally, I can’t complain about the pay wall. In a perfect world, my work would be available online for free always; but in a perfect world, I also get paid, and if everyone gets to read for free, then I probably have to write for free. It makes sense to me that we have to pay for what we, as readers, consume.
But I also get that that pay wall may well cause problems for the people who read this site, given the frequency with which I link to the Times. As a weekend print subscriber, I get unlimited digital access, and the historical racing coverage in the Times is invaluable – literally – to me. My weekend subscription costs about $250 a year, and for that archive access alone, it’s worth every penny. But I’ve heard from you how frustrating it is to click on a link and then SLAM! get denied by a pay wall.
Paying for what you consume is at the heart of the Kickstarter model, which brings us to Kentucky Confidential, launched this week. A restaurant in my neighborhood recently used Kickstarter to help fund its opening, and the new Kentucky Derby media venture launched its crowdsourcing campaign in March. It didn’t look good for a while; while donations trickled in readily, with about a day to go, Kentucky Confidential was short nearly $10,000.
I followed the campaign as I researched this post, and it appeared that not long before the deadline, a major donor came through, nearly funding the project completely, and other donors followed, with the result that Kentucky Confidential was fully funded and began publishing yesterday. Is this good news, because someone was willing to put up enough money to fund the venture? Or is it bad news, because it appeared that not enough smaller donors would have led to the same result?
Donating to Kickstarter isn’t the equivalent of subscribing to a publication; those who didn’t donate can still access the site (like those among us who guiltily, or shamelessly, listen to public radio without becoming a member), though contributors do get some perks, as outlined on the Kickstarter page.
I confess that I have been among those at times unwilling to fork over the dollars for the information that I want. In August 2009, I railed in the Saratogian about the crucial information hidden behind pay walls. A month later, to the surprise and delight of many, Equibase made available, easily and for free, all charts going back to 1991. As a historical resource, it’s – what’s the word? – invaluable.
As readers, we can no longer rely on the hefty budgets of advertisers to subsidize our reading tastes, and thus the responsibility for paying for the information that we want falls to us. Again, there’s good news/bad news here. In the best of circumstances, we can fund what we want and ignore what we don’t (which raises interesting questions about the democratization of the news: at the risk of sounding elitist, the idea of the majority funding the news, and thus determining what is news, feels fraught with peril). In less ideal situations, we pay a premium for what we want or need ($2.95 for ONE newspaper article, when the whole newspaper cost less than half that?).
But at least we’ve got options: options about prices, about sources, about how and how much we access. And I like that…especially when it doesn’t cost me much.
Now, back to my cable TV wish list…