Walter Isaacson Doesn’t Subscribe to The New York Times

newspaper020509 Walter Isaacson Doesnt Subscribe to The New York TimesIn next week’s Time magazine, Walter Isaacson turns his attention to the newspaper industry’s troubles, asserting that the way publishers currently operate "is not a business model that makes sense."

Mr. Isaacson, the CEO of The Aspen Institute and the former top editor at Time, started his career in newspapers, and was also an engineer of Pathfinder, Time Inc.’s early—but failed—news portal, so you’d think he would be a hard-core print partisan. Not so:

The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines. Who can blame them? Even an old print junkie like me has quit subscribing to the New York Times, because if it doesn’t see fit to charge for its content, I’d feel like a fool paying for it.

After sifting through some possible industry-saving scenarios, like eliminating papers’ print editions (hello, Christian Science Monitor!) or waiting out "the long winter," Mr. Isaacson makes a proposal:

I am hoping that this year will see the dawn of a bold, old idea that will provide yet another option that some news organizations might choose: getting paid by users for the services they provide and the journalism they produce.

One of the obstacles standing in the way of users paying for content, according to Mr. Isaacson, is Internet service providers, which "get to charge customers $20 to $30 a month for access to the Web’s trove of free content and services. As a result, it is not in their interest to facilitate easy ways for media creators to charge for their content."

What’s strange about that statement is the fact that Time Warner Cable—which announced in May 2008 its intention to spin off from Time Warner but hasn’t been approved to do so yet—is the country’s second-largest provider of cable and boasts of delivering 8.3 million high-speed services to residential customers in 28 states on its Company Highlights page.

Presumably some of those end users are reading newspapers—not to mention Time, Inc. publications—for free.

That is, when they’re not watching pirated Warner Brothers movies like The Dark Knight, which Brian Stelter and Brad Stone in today’s New York Times report has been illegally downloaded "more than seven million times around the world."