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Says Times May Offer Columns to Bloggers in Revenue Share Deal

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NEW YORK ( )-- Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at The New York Times Co., defended his Web site's decision to place its columnists behind a "paid only" barrier at a conference yesterday and said the Times may also offer columns to bloggers in a revenue-sharing arrangement.

Martin Nisenholtz sees an revenue-sharing model working for content.
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Mr. Nisenholtz was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, "Syndicate: Content Syndication Trends," at New York's Marriott Marquis hotel. "Why can't revenue shares apply to information sites?" he asked the audience, saying he is kicking around the blog idea and wants feedback from potential partners. He explained the idea as a revenue-sharing arrangement with bloggers who would offer the paper's columns to their users in the blogosphere. "They would be agents of the Times," he said.

The new daily paid service, called TimesSelect, would give subscribers access to the paper's archives dating back to 1980, in addition to the columns such as those by Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman. TimesSelect would cost $49.95 and is slated to begin Sept. 19.

Snarky remarks
The Times' digital chief was barraged with criticism, questions and snarky remarks from the audience in a lively question-and-answer session following his talk. He said it was necessary to create TimesSelect to have a second revenue stream that didn't interfere with the advertising model. "We wanted to create an offer powerful enough to attract people and get them to subscribe, but keep that big front door [to the rest of the daily content] open so we can continue to grow our advertising business."

He said the archives have earned about $1 million a year in revenue at $2.95 per article. "We expect to earn a lot more."

Mr. Nisenholtz emphatically defended the $49.95 price tag for TimesSelect. "People think nothing of ordering a $25 martini at the hotel bar -- but pay 50 bucks for archived material at the Times? Oh my God!"

Seamless archive access
He reminded the audience that the vast majority of Times content will remain free. "For 10 years you've been asking for seamless access to the archives -- now you've got it, and we need to get something in return."

Won't putting columnists behind a pay wall keep them out of the conversation among blogs across the Web? Mr. Nisenholtz was asked. (Bloggers cannot link to content that can only be accessed through a subscription.) He said that although "there is a possibility that can happen," as more [publications] struggle with free vs. paid ... "I don't think it's right that all information is free."

Most distinctive voices
Why single out the columnists for the paid service? "They are the most distinctive voices in the paper," he said. Have they complained? "Feedback from columnists has been good -- [they acknowledge] that we need to create an additional revenue stream."

The conference, which runs through today, focuses on blogs, real simple syndication (RSS) feeds and podcasting.

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