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Here’s how things used to work, New York Times media columnist David Carr said in a keynote at SXSW Sunday: People would leave college, get a job, get married, reproduce, go to IKEA and “start to worry what the school system was about.” So they’d subscribe to a newspaper.
Nowadays, things are different: People “may practice the art of reproduction, but they don’t do a great deal of it … they might not get a job. And they might not buy a house and they might not go to IKEA and they might not need to know what’s going on in the school system … the other thing they might not do: Get a paper.”
Carr recalled being at SXSW two years ago when the New York Times debuted its paywall. “I remember some of the things people said,” he said. “The theologists of free — the spiritual belief in the power of free. [These people believe that] you keep things free, and eventually somebody will clack two coconuts together and you’ll get rich.
“We were told that people would never give us money, that we priced it way too expensively … the fact that it was leaky was viewed as silly, the fact that you could do a workaround was viewed as silly. We did that on purpose. If you like it so much that you’re willing to do a hack around a URL just to get a peek under our dress … eventually you’re going to give us some money.”
Carr, who described his job as “writing about people who write about people who do things,” said that metrics inspire “neurosis” in him. “Any time you write about newspapers, it’s click death,” he said. “I decided that, to do my job, I can’t always pay attention to metrics … I don’t want to do an Andrew Sullivan. He’s a brave and wonderful guy and he is totally kicking ass, but I don’t want to be out there all by myself with a tip jar.
“I’d rather be holding hands with Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd … I can remember when we first looked at a paywall in 2005, Times Select. They were going to put only the business columnists and the op-ed columnists behind the paywall. I’d been a business columnist for, like, two months and I was like, Jesus Christ, don’t put me back there. … This time I’m holding hands with the entire wingspan of the New York Times, we’re all holding hands together jumping across the line, and it’s going pretty well.”