They used to use the cost of distribution as a way of adding a surcharge to cover the cost of reporting. Because they owned the means of distribution, and had a lot of people buying their information product, they could charge others to use their system.
They can't do that anymore, because: 1. They let Silicon Valley own the distribution in the new news environment. 2. The Californians are willing to sell access to that system real cheap to the people who used to pay the Times to distribute their stuff.
In hindsight, the Times could have and should have been the new distribution system, but they would have had to be nimble to do that, and been willing to accept the feeling of jumping out of a plane with no parachute. They let people in California do that instead because they were willing to deal with insecurity. What a silly reason to cede an empire.
Some small number of people at the Times get that. I know because I said these things to them two weeks ago, about 150 of them, and they didn't stomp out of the room, and they did't argue with me. In fact, some of the people told me they were psyched to do what I asked them to do. That's a new deal.
Now, some of the people who weren't in the room are the ones who think that they need to get people like the two young Stanford grad students to not publish a $5 aggregator. Look, if the Times is depending on stopping those two kids for its future, then the Times has no future. They have to make money, but they aren't going to make it by charging a few cents for every article. They must know that won't work.
You give away most of what you do, and charge for the really good stuff. The stuff that people will line up to pay lots of money for. You need to get people excited about news the way Steve Jobs gets them excited about gadgets.
Or even better, find new businesses you can go into that depend on people coming to you for authoritative information about that business. It's how I got people to buy web development software from me. You can make a lot more money that way than by charging a few cents to read an article. It's a case of penny-wise pound-foolish. The Times is aiming to sell out too cheap. Use your franchise to build something truly big and very new that will make you rich.