A Quick Conversation With New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal: “Information Isn’t Free”

Andrew Rosenthal, who’s run the Times’ editorial page since January of last year, spoke at lunch at the ANA convention today. And, if I may be simultaneously self-interested and lazy, my wife and founder Laurel Touby twittered his whole speech, which you should check out—it currently starts on this page. As for me, I buttonholed him after lunch with a simple question:

Why did Times Select—the paper’s abortive attempt to charge readers for online access to its columnist—fail?

He said: “It couldn’t get big enough.”

I said: 700,000 customers (the figure Rosenthal used in his speech--although others have reported that not all of them were paying full freight--isn’t big enough?

He said: “It’s OK, but it’s a week’s worth of readers for Maureen Dowd. I said, ‘I want all of our readers back.’”

Shortly after this, I made a (lame and overused) joke about how I was blogging directly from my pen and paper, since, you know, information wants to be free. To which he had a quick response:

“Information is not free! Nothing online is free except for what we do, not email"-- not exactly true, that--"not shoes, not pornography . . . I know I sound very Pollyannaish. But [what we do is important]"

Well, sure, I agreed. But how could you possibly start charging people to read the now?

“Maybe ten years ago we [as in, many newspapers and other content sites] could have done something--held hands and jumped off the cliff together.

We didn’t.

It’s the biggest mistake we ever made.”

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