Free For All in the New York Times' Op-Ed and Archives

Nearly a month after the New York Times shut down TimesSelect, the subscription-based service for premium content on NYTimes.com, traffic to areas of the site that were previously members-only is flowing fast and free. With popular columnists like Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd drawing thousands of curious readers and fans, the Opinion section has more than doubled unique visitors, while the overall NYTimes.com site has grown by roughly 10% in the same period.

The Op-Ed section reached 560,057 unique visitors last week, up from 245,942 for the week ending 09/15/07, while overall site traffic hovered around 3.8M, up from 3.4M in the same period. Op-Ed columns have also driven major viral traffic, claiming 4 out of 5 Most E-Mailed stories in today’s online edition.

TimesSelect, launched exactly two years prior to its closure on September 17th, put the Opinion section, weekly crossword, and Archives behind a paid subscription firewall. The service had a lukewarm reception from readers, less than 10% of whom signed up as paying subscribers.

Since September 17th, the Times has charged only for access to the crosswords and Archive articles dating from 1923 to 1986. Access is free for the Op-Ed section and Archives from 1851 to 1922 and 1987 to the present.

Times management also cited Google‘s rising importance as a referral source in the decision to discontinue TimesSelect. In September 2006, Google referrals overtook those visitors who set NYTimes.com as their homepage or received an inbound link from an email client.

Google plays a more pivotal role in the behavior of the Times readership than ever before, owning a 5% greater share of referrals than it did in September 2005. Meanwhile, Yahoo and MSN/Live have dramatically lost share. As important as Google has become to the Times today, there is still opportunity for the Old Gray Lady in search.

Plans to open up the Wall St. Journal, now part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, will also likely include Google and search in a big way. Traffic to the paid-access financial news site has reached a record high of 2.5M visitors in September 2007, up 36% from July when the deal was announced.

The Chart above previously stated incorrect percentages for the Share of Referrals from the Top 3 Search Engine/Portals. The percentages that now appear in this post are correct.

Also, Google owns a 9% greater Share of Referrals than it did in September 2005, rather than the 5% originally posted. While Yahoo and MSN/Live lost 5% and 4% Share of Referrals, respectively, in the same period.

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