The Times will also get a small number of people who will be happy to pay online because they see it as something of a civic duty. And it is. If you think The New York Times is an essential institution, and it is, you now have a way to show your support, sort of like how listeners send money to NPR and PBS (one can dream that the Sulzbergers would take the NYT nonprofit). This won’t be a million people or anything, but I’ll bet there are more than you might think.

The Times, by the last estimate I saw, pays upwards of $200 million a year just for its newsroom. It gets somewhere between $100 million and $150 million a year in online advertising, and that’s surely inflated artificially by so-called upsells.

It looks from here like it will keep the vast majority—almost all—of the current online ad revenue, while adding incremental revenue from digital subscriptions. If it gets just 100,000 subscribers—roughly 5 percent of its monthly unique visitors—it will be pulling an additional $18 million or so a year. My guess is it will hit 100,000 digital subscriptions in the first few months and will far surpass that in a couple of years.

This is speculation, but I wonder if the Times will be able to charge more for online ads, as well. Surely advertisers really want to reach folks willing to fork over their Visa for $15 a month online.

John Gapper pulls this Ken Doctor quote:

“Here is the growing epiphany about these core readers: Not only do they pay you, they use lots more pages than the fly-by people, the non-core sent by Google, Facebook, Twitter and all manner of other referrals. More than 50% of the Financial Times traffic comes from about 10% of its unique visitors, largely the paying ones, who just got a fee increase this year and paid up. The Wall Street Journal has seen similar disproportionate usage.”

I called that loyal readers and junk traffic a couple of years ago. Loyal readers are where most of your ad revenue comes from. What the Times is doing with its paywall is asking its heaviest readers to pay while still profiting off the junk traffic. And it’s pushing back against the dangerous idea that “content” has no monetary value.

It’s a damn shame the newspaper industry didn’t do this a decade ago. Here’s hoping the Times’s move marks a shift in how journalism is valued and priced.


Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.