Bundles of Thought

Timothy Noah conducted an unscientific poll of Slate readers to see exactly what it was about the NYT columnists that readers found valuable. In other words, if anyone thought it was worth the annual fee of $50, which columnist opinions, exactly, would be worth the expense?

Recall, then that the NYT is bundling goods together and charging a flat fee. The fee includes access to some article archives, as well as all opinion columnists (Noah allocated $25 of the fee for columnists). But why bundle the columnists at all, especially if, for example, a certain blog named after a certain fat, not-living-anymore president (and his associates) reveals that one may be a hack? Why not just pay for one or two columnists? Economically, it's not a bad move for the NYT. This is much the same reason that your cable provider insists upon bundling ESPN with ABC Family - you're charged a little extra for the package because you can't buy just the channels that you actually want to watch. So who's going to bring in the subscribers, and who couldn't hack it a la carte? I don't want to steal all of Noah's thunder (it was a great, if unscientific idea), but let's just say that Brooks doesn't fare well. Crap, I can't take it - he's second to last, and is assessed at $1.39 annually. It seems clear, though, that Noah could use a lesson in statistics. Let's assume for now that uses a simple mean of his observations.

It's worth noting the caveat that consumer demand isn't always an indication of quality. Well-written, articulate positions aren't always popular, but it doesn't make them wrong. But Brook's apparent lack of popularity (and, possibly, originality) should be enough for the NYT to question whether he's a good worthy of keeping and worthy of demanding a fee. Keep in mind, too, that Brook's column is surely a barrier to entry for other potential regular columnists who may be able to draw in subscribers (good for the NYT) and add original thought to the national discussion (good for citizens).


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