Thoughts on the New York Times Paywall

Last week, the New York Times announced its paywall, after many months of deliberation and development:

Beginning March 28, visitors to NYTimes.com will be able to read 20 articles a month without paying, a limit that company executives said was intended to draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.

Today, the paywall went live. If you’re not familiar with the NYT paywall, take a look at the subscriptions page, and ponder for a minute the split among the three subscription options:

  • NYTIMES.COM + SMARTPHONE APP   — $15 every four weeks
  • NYTIMES.COM + TABLET APP   — $20 every four weeks
  • ALL DIGITAL ACCESS   —  $35 every four weeks

My immediate gripe upon seeing that breakdown: why discriminate between an iPhone app and the New York Times iPad app? I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have an iPad; is the experience going to be significantly better on the tablet than it is on the phone? I doubt it.

Secondly, why is there no stand-alone subscription to nytimes.com? This is absolutely baffling. In fact, the whole pricing strategy gets weirder when you do the math. Let A = cost of access to nytimes.com. Let B = cost of access to the smartphone app. Let C equal cost of access to the tablet app. We then have:

A + B = $15 (1)

A + C = $20 (2)

A + B + C = $35 (3)

Plug in equation (1) into equation (3), namely that A+B = $15, so equation (3) becomes $15+C = $35, or that C=$35-$15=$20. Then from equation 2, A + C = $20, and we see that A = $20-$20 = $0!

Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. But from reading across the Web, I think I know why the New York Times devised such a pricing strategy. If you read the subscriptions page, you’ll notice that you get full access to New York Times so long as you subscribe to (paper) home delivery. You can subscribe to the Sunday New York Times for something like $13 per four weeks, which is significantly cheaper than the $35 all-access pass for four weeks. Thus the goal of the Times: to increase paper subscriptions, but more importantly, to ensure that current subscribers renew their subscriptions.

So, today is day 1 of the unveiling of the paywall, and I’m pretty sure I’ll hit my 20-article quote in the next few days. Take a look at the number of article’s I’ve read last month, broken down by section:

This number doesn’t include the articles I’ve read via the New York Times iPad app. Do I think the digital subscription is expensive? I have to agree with Felix Salmon — the digital subscription is expensive:

The NYT has decided not to make the paywall very cheap and porous in the first instance as people get used to it. $15 for four weeks might be cheap compared to the cost of a print subscription, but $195 per year is still enough money to give readers pause and to drive them elsewhere. And similarly, 20 articles per month is lower than I would have expected at launch.

However, I disagree with Felix Salmon on one point here. The paywall won’t drive me elsewhere for the news and in-depth reporting that I consistently rely from the NYT. I believe I will be able to find the articles I want to read via blogs and social media (especially following links via Twitter). If you’ve been paying attention to this blog over the last year or so, you know that I’ve linked to dozens of New York Times articles. The paywall will NOT change my blogging behavior. However, I think the paywall will change my browsing/reading behaving while I am on nytimes.com. How? I typically tend to browse articles by sections, and then click through anything that looks interesting enough to read. So, for instance, in an evening I may read five stories in the Business section, then proceed to the Science section and read a few articles there. With the paywall, I won’t have this ability/luxury, but I know I’ll find a way to access the articles I want to read.

I hope that more of you come visit this blog in the coming months because I’ll still be linking to New York Times frequently, and you’ll be able to access the NYT articles that I link here without having to worry about adding to your monthly 20-article total.

What are your thoughts on the New York Times paywall? Will you pay? If not, why not? How will you access NYT articles if you’re a devout reader but aren’t willing to subscribe to the digital subscription? Do you think the NYT paywall will fail?

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Resources:

1) The Newsonomics of The New York Times’ Pay Fence [Nieman Lab]

2) New York Times Paywall: Built for the Digital Future? [Guardian]

Readings: Silicon Valley, Twitter Influence, Mark Armstrong on Reading, Cosmonaut Crash

A few good reads from this week:

1) “Silicon Valley Hiring Perks: Meals, iPads and a Cubicle for Spot” [New York Times] – a good piece reflecting the current state of Silicon Valley. I was surprised by how well Google is paying:

Then there are salaries. Google is paying computer science majors just out of college $90,000 to $105,000, as much as $20,000 more than it was paying a few months ago. That is so far above the industry average of $80,000 that start-ups cannot match Google salaries.

Perhaps the most telling line, representing the culture shift in Silicon Valley (how long has it been in the making?):

And there has been a psychological shift; many of the most talented engineers want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg not work for him.

2) “A Better Way to Measure Twitter Influence” [New York Times] – Do you think the most influential Twitter user is Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga? I agree with the premise of this post, that follower counts on Twitter mean less for influence than actual engagement (replies, retweets):

But it turns out that counting followers is a seriously flawed way to measure a person’s impact on Twitter. Even one of Twitter’s founders, Evan Williams, made the point to me recently: someone with millions of followers may no longer post messages frequently, while someone followed by mere tens of thousands may be a prolific poster whose messages are amplified by others.

According to research by Twitalyzer, the most influential Twitter user is Rafinha Bastos from Brazil. Yes, this is a surprise to me too.

3) “Mark Armstrong: What I Read” [The Atlantic] – Mark Armstrong, founder of long reads (one of my favorite sites on the Web), reveals his daily media/reading diet:

Most weekday mornings, the first thing I’m reading is my iPhone. I’ll start with a quick check of the Twitter app, dipping into the real-time stream and checking the latest stories that readers have shared using the #longreads hashtag. (It’s for sharing any outstanding story between 1,500 and 30,000 words.)

Also, Long Reads wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the community, as Mark attests:

Twitter is also my main source for new stories that get featured on Longreads. The community is incredible when it comes to finding and sharing great stories using the #longreads hashtag: @hriefs, @michellelegro, @jaredbkeller, @sherlyholmes, @legalnomads, @katesilver, @nxthompson, @weegee, @eugenephoto, @petersm_th, all recommend excellent links—from magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic to regional publications doing outstanding journalism like Texas Monthly, 5280 Magazine, Atlanta Magazine, and alt-weeklies like Minneapolis City Pages and The Stranger.

I’ve bookmarked Mark’s post because I need to go through the links he has included in there more than a few times. Related: my most popular post on this blog is from last year, where I rounded up The Top Five Long Reads of 2010.

4) “Cosmonaut Crashed into Earth Crying in Rage” [NPR] – probably the most fascinating story I’ve read all week. If you’ve ever doubted that the space race wasn’t risky, read this story. If you click through the link, there is a disturbing photo at the top of the page. This is an incredible account of Vladimir Komarov, friend of the Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin (the first man to enter space). The background:

In 1967, both men [Komarov and Gagarin] were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

But as detailed in the new book Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Gagarin and some senior technicians had inspected the Soyuz 1 and had found 203 structural problems. Gagarin even wrote a 10-page memo on his findings, gave it to his best friend in the KGB, Venyamin Russayev, but nobody dared send it up the chain of command (to Brezhnev). So both Komarov and Gagarin knew of the dangers…but what would have happened if Komarov refused to go?

“If I don’t make this flight, they’ll send the backup pilot instead.” That was Yuri Gagarin. Vladimir Komarov couldn’t do that to his friend. “That’s Yura,” the book quotes him saying, “and he’ll die instead of me. We’ve got to take care of him.” Komarov then burst into tears.

An absolutely harrowing account. A must-read.

Andrew Wiles: Obsession, Proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem

Fermat’s Last Theorem states that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two. This theorem was first conjectured by Pierre de Fermat in 1637, and it remained unsolved for over three hundred years. Andrew Wiles proved the theorem in 1994.

What’s fascinating is how long Andrew Wiles spent working on this theorem (answer: seven years). In a great interview with NOVA, Andrew Wiles explains his obsession:

I used to come up to my study, and start trying to find patterns. I tried doing calculations which explain some little piece of mathematics. I tried to fit it in with some previous broad conceptual understanding of some part of mathematics that would clarify the particular problem I was thinking about. Sometimes that would involve going and looking it up in a book to see how it’s done there. Sometimes it was a question of modifying things a bit, doing a little extra calculation. And sometimes I realized that nothing that had ever been done before was any use at all. Then I just had to find something completely new; it’s a mystery where that comes from. I carried this problem around in my head basically the whole time. I would wake up with it first thing in the morning, I would be thinking about it all day, and I would be thinking about it when I went to sleep. Without distraction, I would have the same thing going round and round in my mind.

Have your ever been consumed by anything on this scale?


The University of Twitter: Alain de Botton’s Course in Political Philosophy

Today on Twitter, Alain de Botton sent eight tweets, in reverse chronological order. The topic? A short course in political philosophy. Here are the tweets:

The University of Twitter: a short course in Political Philosophy in 7 parts:

1: Plato: We should be ruled not by leaders chosen by a majority, but by those who are most intelligent.

2. St Augustine: We should not try to build paradise on earth. Aim for tolerable government, true government only possible in the next life.

3. Machiavelli: Politician must choose between serving the interests of country and the interests of Christian morality. Can’t have both.

4. Hobbes: Rulers not appointed by God, but by people and if they can’t guarantee their security, they can be legitimately kicked out.

5. Smith: The market cannot alone create a moral community. Civil society must nudge capitalists to be good through emulation and honours.

6. Karl Marx: The ‘profit’ of a capitalist is in essence theft, the stolen life and labour of the proletariat.

7. J.S. Mill: Governments should not tell people how to live, they should give them the preconditions to make their own choices.

So if you wanted to brush up on your political philosophy but didn’t want to read a textbook (or lengthy Wikipedia entries, for that matter), enjoy the above.

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You may also like the quotable Alain de Botton, from his The Art of Travel.

Earthquake in Japan: Readings, Photos, Videos, Resources

You’ve probably heard by now that a massive 8.9 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11, 2011. I’ve been digesting a lot of news regarding this event, and wanted to highlight the best resources I’ve found so far. I’ll update this post throughout the week. If you have any suggestions to add, feel free to comment below.

Starter

I didn’t find out about the quake until about twelve hours after it happened. And my first resource to check, as I usually do when major world events occur, was Wikipedia. The article on the 2011 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami is constantly being revised by the devout Wikipedia editors, and as of this writing, there have been more than 2,300 revisions. The article is quite comprehensive, and even has links to other full-grown articles on the Fukushima nuclear reactor accidents.

Reading

Here are the best reads on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami:

1) “Japan’s Strict Building Codes Saved Lives” [New York Times] – Make no mistake about it: had an earthquake of this magnitude happened anywhere else in the world, the death toll would be in the tens of thousands. While many in the blogosphere deemed this piece polemic, it serves as a crucial reminder:

After the Kobe earthquake [also known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake] in 1995, which killed about 6,000 people and injured 26,000, Japan also put enormous resources into new research on protecting structures, as well as retrofitting the country’s older and more vulnerable structures. Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis.

2) “Nuclear Energy 101″ [Boing Boing] – very illuminating post from Maggie Koerth-Baker explaining the basics of nuclear energy, and what can go wrong. Because you don’t want to be the guy who explains that “the extent of my knowledge on nuclear power plants is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen on The Simpsons”. (link via @stevesilberman, @edyong209)

3) “Nuclear Experts Explain Worst-Case Scenario at Fukushima Power Plant” [Scientific American] – a good, if somewhat depressing, read:

The type of accident that is occurring in Japan is known as a station blackout. It means loss of offsite AC power—power lines are down—and then a subsequent failure of emergency power on site—the diesel generators. It is considered to be extremely unlikely, but the station blackout has been one of the great concerns for decades.

4) “Japan Earthquake Factbox” [Vancouver Sun] – a great quick-hits list of trivia of the effects of this earthquake. A few of my favorites:

  • There were more than 100 aftershocks (rated 5.0+ in magnitude) since the initial quake. You can verify on the USGS site (so many occurrences of “NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN”)
  • The Earth’s axis has reportedly shifted ten inches as a result of the quake, and Japan’s coast is said to have permanently shifted 2.4 METERS.
  • The quake was 900 times stronger than the quake that hammered San Francisco in 1989.

5) “The Internet Kept Me Company” [New York Times] – a beautiful personal post from Sandra Barron, who lives in Japan. She reflects how internet (but especially Twitter, where she goes by @sandrajapandra) has kept her company:

Then I turned to Twitter. When there’s a quake, everyone who uses Twitter tends to tweet about it. (The United States Geological Survey has even announced that it will start monitoring these reports as part of its surveillance.) This time I waited until the first round of shaking had died down. Then I wrote: “That rearranged my kitchen.” It had. Drawers were open. Bottles had hit the floor.

6) “Fukushima Nuclear Accident” [Brave New Climate] – hands down, the BEST explanation of the disaster unfolding in Fukushima. If there is one source you read to learn (from the very beginning, in layman’s terms) about the Fukushima nuclear reactors and what has gone wrong so far, make it this. The post was published March 12, but there are continuous updates on the blog (March 14 update is here; March 15 update is here). A must-read source.

Photography

1) The In Focus blog at The Atlantic has two incredible galleries.

2) ABC News (AU) has the best use of Google images I’ve seen relating to this quake. The before/after images are astounding. If there is one link you click through in this post, make it this one.

3) New York Times has a similar gallery, but it’s a bit more awkward to use that slider.

Videos

AP has perhaps the most viewed video over the last few days:

Helicopter footage of giant tsunami waves approaching the Japanese coast:

CCTV footage from Sendai Airport showing the incoming tsunami:

Astounding footage showing the size of the tsunami waves as they devour a ship:

Building swaying during the earthquake:

And finally, amazing amateur video showing the earthquake alert system in Japan:

This MSNBC post explains (link via @pourmecoffee):

Japan has spent well more than $1 billion on earthquake prediction systems, including a network of more than 1,000 GPS-based sensors scattered around the country — and the payoff came today when Tokyo’s residents were given up to a minute’s warning that a Big One was on the way.

The early warning system isn’t that useful for those who are close to the epicenter, because the S-waves come quickly behind the P-waves. But because Tokyo is about 230 miles away, that city’s residents could have taken action as much as 80 seconds before the serious shaking began. As noted in this Technology Review report, that amount of time can give people a chance to stop a train, lower a crane, pull a car over to the side of the road, stop performing surgery in a hospital or get off an elevator in an office building.

Other Resources

1) The Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis has launched an excellent web portal for the earthquake. Don’t miss the webmaps page and for the data-loving nerds, this page.

2) Great infographic in the New York Times showing how the shifting plates off the coast of Japan caused the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Also, don’t miss this interactive map showing the damage across Japan (link via @lexinyt, @palafo)

3) Jodi Ettenberg has an excellent Twitter list of journalists and others reporting from Japan.

4) There is superb live coverage of the Japan earthquake on Al Jazeera and continuous updates on the New York Times lede blog (via Open Culture).

5) Google has a dedicated resource page relating to the earthquake, including a people finder.

6) Ushahidi (in Japanese). Includes a live crisis map of Japan.

How to Help

Here are some ways to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan:

  • American Red Cross — U.S. mobile phone users can text REDCROSS to 90999 to add $10 automatically to your phone bill. Or visit http://www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.
  • International Medical Corps — Sending relief teams and supplies to the area. Call 1-800-481-4462, or visit http://internationalmedicalcorps.org .
  • Save the Children — The relief effort providing food, medical care and education to children is accepting donations through mobile phones by texting JAPAN to 20222 to donate $10. People can also call 1-800-728-3843 during business hours or visit www.savethechildren.org/japanquake to donate online.
  • Global Giving — The non-profit which works through grassroots efforts says Americans can text JAPAN to 50555 to give $10 through their phone bill. Or visit http://www.globalgiving.org .
  • Interaction — The group is the largest alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations and lists many ways to help on its site, http://www.interaction.org .
  • Network for Good — The aggregator of charities has a list of programs and ways to donate to relief efforts. Visit http://www.networkforgood.org.
  • Doctors without Borders — this is the organization I personally support (I supported them last year after the Haiti earthquake). Visit the site and donate directly at http://doctorswithoutborders.org .

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As I mentioned at the top, if you have found excellent resources relating to this earthquake, feel free to comment below. I will update this post several times.

Dubai on Empty

Dubai is the parable of what money makes when it has no purpose but its own multiplication and grandeur. When the culture that holds it is too frail to contain it. Dubai is a place that doesn’t just know the price of everything and the value of nothing but makes everything worthless. The answer to everything in Dubai is money. In the darkness of the hot night, the motorways roar with Ferraris and Porsches and Lamborghinis; the fat boys are befuddled and stupefied by sports cars they race around on nowhere roads, going nowhere. Taxi drivers of their ambitionless, all-consuming entitlement. Shortchanged by being given everything. Cursed with money.

What is it about Dubai that warrants extensive pieces in magazines? In 2009, I read Johann Hari’s fantastic piece “The Dark Side of Dubai.” In 2010, I read no less than three articles on Dubai. And today, I finished reading A.A. Gill’s piece “Dubai on Empty” in Vanity Fair. I can’t say I’ve learned a lot new information from the piece, but I enjoyed it for the writing. The quote above best summarizes the piece. A few other passages of note below.

Love the descriptions and strong metaphors here:

A derelict skyscraper looks exactly the same as one that’s teeming with commerce. They huddle around the current tallest building in the world—a monument to small-nation penis envy. This pylon erected with the Viagra of credit is now a big, naked exclamation of Dubai’s fiscal embarrassment. It was going to be called Burj Dubai, but as Dubai was unable to make their payments, they were forced to go to their Gulf neighbor, head towel in hand, to get a loan. So now it’s called Burj Khalifa, after Abu Dhabi’s ruler, who coughed up $10 billion to its over-extended neighbor.

Making a strong case that Dubai isn’t a real city (there are no squares, no plazas, no center), and that it’s unwalkable:

My driver gets lost more than once. He’s lived here all his life. He says he always gets lost. The roads keep changing. It’s a confusion of orange traffic cones and interlocking barriers; access roads peter out into long drops to rubble and dust. Nothing actually goes anywhere. The wide lanes loop around endlessly, and then there’s no place to go. No plaza or square, no center. Nowhere to hang out, nowhere to walk. Why would you walk? In this heat?

On the rapid transformation of the city:

No one dreamed of this. Twenty years ago, none of this was here. No Narnia. No seven-star hotels [Editor's note: The Burj-Al-Arab is the only seven-star hotel in the world]. No tallest prick buildings. Just a home of pastoralist tented families herding goats, racing camels, shooting one another. And a handful of greasy, armed empire mechanics in khaki shorts, drilling for oil. In just one life span, Dubai has gone from sitting on a rug to swiveling on a fake Eames chair 100 stories up. And not a single local has had to lift a finger to make it happen. That’s not quite fair—of course they’ve lifted a finger; to call the waiter, berate the busboy. The money seeped out of the ground and they spent it. Pretty much all of it. You look at this place and you realize not a single thing is indigenous, not one of this culture’s goods and chattels originated here.

A reminder of how the workers in the city are mistreated (I reiterate that reading “The Dark Side of Dubai” will give you a better perspective on this topic):

Yet, the workers, who make up roughly 71 percent of the population, have precious few rights here. They can’t become citizens, though some are the third generation of their family to be born here. They can be deported at any time. They have no redress. Many of the Asian laborers are owed back pay they aren’t likely to get.

Another passage with vivid, bold descriptions. The words jump out of the page:

The track sits in a wasteland surrounded by the exhausted squirm of motorways. I walk around it and look not at the galloping horses and their bright jockeys but back up at the stands. Here in one long panorama is the Dantean vision of modern Dubai—the Arabs huddled in a glass dome, looking like creatures from a Star Trek episode in their sepulchral winding-sheet dishdashas. Next to them are the stands for Westerners, mostly British, loud and drunk, dressed in their tarty party gear. The girls, raucous and provocative, have fat thighs that wobble in tiny frocks. Cantilevered bosoms lurch. The boys, spiky and gelled, glassy-eyed and leering…

My consensus? Read the entire piece for the writing, which I like to highlight from time to time on this blog.