Digital subscriptions cost less to produce than actual print editions. The paywall seems to have been a huge success thus far, as each quarter reports growth in digital subscriptions. Buying NYT is a bet that in the post-print world, people are willing to pay for quality content.
You are in a dream world if you think that the New York Times garners the same respect that it used to get. Perhaps back in the early 1970's, when I started reading the New York Times, people respected and trusted the Times. Today the words bias and slanted are better descriptors. It may take a while, but this paper is headed toward the dustbin of history as far as I can tell.