I think there's a rule today that every media-business blogger has to weigh in on the New York Times' finally announced online subscription plan, and I'm going to do my part by deferring to Felix Salmon's excellent analysis, which I think is spot on:
What does all this mean for the New York Times Company? I can’t see how it’s good. ... By my back-of-the-envelope math, the paywall won’t even cover its own development costs for a good two years, and beyond that will never generate enough money to really make a difference to NYTCo revenues. Maybe that might change if the NYT breaks its promise to offer full website access for free to all print subscribers. But that decision would be fraught in all manner of other ways.
For the time being, though, I just can’t see how this move makes any kind of financial sense for the NYT. The upside is limited; the downside is that it ceases to be the paper of record for the world. Who would take that bet?
Agreed—this really looks like small potatoes, perhaps just a sop to virulent "we must get paid!" factions within the Times. I think it's just porous enough that it won't affect more than a small number of die-hard Times readers—and I'll bet most of them are already subscribers to the print edition, and thus will get the online version at a weird discount.
Me, I'm in the latter camp—I still get the printed Sunday Times, so the online version will be free for me. Truth be told, as much as I'm a fan of the Times, I can't imagine paying for the online edition. As with the Wall Street Journal, the Times paywall appears to be porous enough that I'll be able to read what I want, through links and the occasional site visit, without triggering the subscription bar.
Critically, I understand that what I pay for when I subscribe to the print edition is printing and delivery of the paper. Those physical production costs don't exist online (per the comments below, advertising foots the bill for the journalism), and thus I don't understand why I'd pay $15 a month for NYTimes.com.
In any case, as Salmon says, it doesn't appear this is going to make a material impact on the Times' finances. Which really makes you wonder what the point of it all is, except maybe to make some sort of "we must be paid" statement. Sorry: Just wanting to be paid does not a business model make.