Online Subscriptions Weighed At Times, Time Inc.

Well, this was probably inevitable: Now that everyone in the world is telling newspaper and magazine publishers they need to charge for website access, the big players are reconsidering the idea.

Ann Moore, who traces her tenure at Time Inc. back to 1978, raised eyebrows for telling a British paper Wednesday she's thinking about charging for access to Time.com and People.com:

Who started this rumour that all information should be free and why didn't we challenge this when it first came out? I say this in college classrooms and they start to throw their shoes at me.

(NB to Ann Moore: Those aren't shoes, they're BlackBerries and iPhones. And the kids only pulled them out to email their friends and ask why the lady from the dental-office magazine is quizzing them about internet rumors and trying to convince them to pay for celebrity gossip, for the Good Of American Journalism.)

Then there were the comments of Martin Nisenholtz, who has run the New York Times website since its inception 13 years ago.

Asked in an ongoing online Q&A this week if he saw "online newspaper and magazine content becoming pay-per-view," Nisenholtz replied, "the short answer to your question is 'yes.'”

Then he said the Times is trying to come up with new ways to charge online readers:

Today, we continue to carefully analyze the question of how paid content (subscriptions, micro-payments, membership tiers) can augment our core advertising business... NYTimes.com has a very large national display revenue stream. As we develop new pay-for-content ideas, we must carefully balance our ability to generate meaningful dollars from both sources.

It makes sense that amid the desperation of depression-esque advertising declines, newspapers and magazines are eyeballing internet paywalls for their most salable content. Time Inc. just completed 600 layoffs and may end up doing more in the near future. Its debt rated as junk, the Times is operating on a high-interest loan from a Mexican billionaire and a subprime mortgage on its headquarters building. They need money somewhere, and any knucklehead can multiply a subscription rate by some invented, projected subscriber base and come up with a big number.

What's sad is that most publishers' online profit strategies will never get more creative than that. (It's enough to make you want to "throw" your "shoe!")