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?

###

Resources:

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

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

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the New York Times Paywall

  1. I wish success to the NYT.

    I don’t know yet whether I will, or not, subscribe.

    I look forward to free through-links from you in the meantime.

    I think the NYT writing is exemplar and I have been recommending to my ‘Chinese native speaker friends’ that they use the NYT articles as models for their usage of English.

    I suppose I can find exemplary models elsewhere – free.

    Partially due to the NYT economic coverage, I’m suffering under an impression that the U.S. has become plutocratic; and that the PRC is close on its profit-tails. Who knows how that will play out? And I’m wondering if there is a connection between the NYT pricing and plutocracy?

    • Thank you Gary for the comment.

      >I think the NYT writing is exemplar and I have been recommending to my ‘Chinese native speaker friends’ that they use the NYT articles as models for their usage of English

      That is a good idea. If I am not mistaken, the language/vocabulary of the NYT is designed to be understood with an 8th grade reading level.

      >And I’m wondering if there is a connection between the NYT pricing and plutocracy?

      Can you elaborate on this idea?

  2. 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?

    I won’t for now pay to get past the NYT’s wall. The problem for me is all of the other subscriptions I already have going – CSM, New Yorker, Harpers, Poetry, the Sun, the Oregonian, Atlantic, Rolling Stone…, and while I like the Times and like Gary wish them success, I also like the Guardian and the Independent, and a few years ago I started reading the National. I also look at the LA Times once in a while. And all this doesn’t include the journals, accessed via e-databases. Then there’s the news about the news, Andrew Sullivan, for example. I guess my problem is I’m not a “devout” reader of the Times. If I was, I’d spring for the sub. The discussion makes me want to re-evaluate my reading habits, though. What do I really value. Get rid of the distractions, keep what I’ll actually read closely, in print and on-line. Something else: One issue I’ve not seen discussed is just how poorly the revenue results of the Times really are. Before the crash, newspapers in this country, I recall reading after the crash, enjoyed a rate of return far greater than most industries, in the 20% range, as I recall – might be inaccurate here, but worth maybe looking up. Point is, what did they do with all that cash, and where are they really now? Simply trying to get back to where they were? Don’t have time to drill down into this, but it might be interesting, particularly given Gary’s plutocracy comments. BTW, have been enjoying yr blog since discovering it recently. Thx.

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