After the New York Times announced that it's cutting 100 more newsroom jobs, guess what happened, virally? Many commenters begged to be allowed to pay for the paper's online content! Is this the NYT's salvation? Ha, no.
Now let's make some generous assumptions. Quantcast estimates that NYtimes.com gets about 15 million monthly US readers. (We asked the company how many comments they get; they haven't gotten back to us yet). Their weekday circulation is around 650k. So the question becomes: How many of those online users who currently pay nothing would pay, say, $5 per month (a number the NYT was floating in a survey earlier this year) to read the website?
Since one-third of the commenters on a story about the paper's staffing issues said they would, does that mean one-third of the total would? We are currently laughing derisively at that assertion! These commenters are people who not only are interested enough in the inner workings of the paper to read a story about its staffing issues—already a small minority—but also interested enough to comment on the story, which takes a certain level of commitment at the NYT's website. So we have a small subset of a small subset of the paper's online readers; namely, those readers most interested in the financial fate of the NYT. Of those, one-third say they're willing to pay.
Let's very generously say a quarter of online readers fall into the first subset, and a quarter of those fall into the second subset. Therefore, the number of online readers willing to pay would be 1/4 times 1/4 times 1/3 times 15 million, or 312,500 readers. If they all paid $5 per month, the NYT would make an extra $18.75 million per year. Which is nice and all, but would not even cover the interest payments on their subprime Mexican loan.
The NYT may in fact get more online readers worldwide, but then again, our assumptions here were already overly generous. In other words, the company's salvation will not be found in the comments section.