The New York Times recently loosed a survey on its print subscribers asking how they’d feel about paying for access to the NYtimes.com web site. In it, they’re asking questions like:
How likely would you be to pay a $2.50 monthly fee — which would be a 50% discount for home delivery subscribers — for continued, unlimited access to nytimes.com?
Nobody really knows the answer to that question. And most people would say “very unlikely,” even if they would pay it, because they might listen and it might stay free.
The NYT should be asking questions like “do you feel any special affinity to other NYT print subscribers?” and “what is your favorite online feature at the nytimes.com web site?” because these are questions that will produce valuable insight for the marketing copy they’ll need to sell their online subscription system.
If what you produce is worth $5/month, then charge it. Focus on selling the benefits of your content — the feeling of community, clarity of information, video and interactive components that make one feel informed.
If they’re looking for a data-backed excuse to start charging for access, they won’t find it. You have to know you have a product worth money, and you have to assert it confidently. Selling your site is a whole different business than giving it away for free.