My approximately $9 per week that I used to spend for the New York Times is down to $3.50 as I have migrated the majority of my reading to the web site. On Sundays, the Times remains a fundamental part of the day but I wonder how long I am going to continue to buy the paper version when my perception grows that the news is out of date and the content is less substantial. Perhaps it is a function of the summer but the newspaper appears thinner when I pick it up on Sunday's, and I don't immediately believe it has the heft to keep my attention for more than 2 hours.
The insert promoting the Times Reader caught my eye this month and I decided to give the free trial a try. There is a lot of speculation about The Times' intentions regarding Times Select which requires a payment to see added content on the NYTimes website. They do have (to me) a surprising number of subscribers to this content but in the face of expected heated competition from NewsCorp/Dow Jones there is speculation that they will shut down Times Select. In my view they should consider doing the same with the E-Reader.
On a positive note, the Reader is great if you want a version on your laptop and you can't by a paper at the airport or train station. During the month I had free access I used it several times on the train and it was excellent but it wasn't better than the paper version. I found the navigation less than intuitive and I repeatedly found myself in a story I had no interest in because I couldn't tell from the headline what the story was about. In contrast on NYTimes.com and in the paper you can glance at the slug and immediately get a sense of the subject. That same functionality seemed to be lacking on the Reader.
In my experience there seemed to be less opportunity for engagement with the Reader than with the paper version. I am not sure why I felt this - perhaps it is a tactile thing - but I found myself preferring to buy the paper. I found it frustrating that I couldn't permalink to articles as can be done on the (NYT) web site and attempting to jump to the article on the NYTimes.com is not possible. Obviously, the reader is designed for use when you are not on-line but this was still frustrating. When I was online, my attempt to check the NY weather was laughably complex.
As wi/fi becomes more prevalent the e-reader is going to look increasingly like a relic. There is so much more content on the NYT web site but little of this audio and video content is available via the reader. If they want this product to succeed they will need to do far more with the product. Instead of trying to develop a rendition of the print, they should be thinking of developing a consumer news "platform" that equates to a LexisNexis type news product for consumers. It would be interesting if the New York Times built this platform approach in conjunction with Yahoo.com (or Microsoft) such that NYT brands the Yahoo news service with NYTimes. In this model NYTimes would continue to leverage their news gathering and analysis strength but could also regain some of the classified, listings and ad revenue that has disappeared in print.
Since I wrote the post last week, Google announced that they are to 'publish' the full feeds from the Associated Press, the Press Association and others. This is a huge and perhaps seismic issue for news sites such as NY Times who rely on traffic from Google to boost exposure to their content. In the case of NYTimes they have much more direct traffic than most news sites but the battle is joined and I see a need for the Times to do something far more fundamental with MyTimes, The Times Reader or NYTimes.com in order to maintain readership and not become some has been news service.
(On two related notes, it was curious to me that as part of the free trial to the Times Reader that the Times Select content wasn't included - I find this odd. Secondly, I have not been contacted at all to actually pay for a subscription for the Reader. Isn't conversion to a paying subscription the purpose of the free trial? Very lazy approach I think).