How Poorly Thought Out is the New York Times Paywall?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 17, 2011

This poorly thought out:

The NYT paywall has arrived: it’s going up in Canada today, and then worldwide on March 28. The most comprehensive source for the gritty details is this FAQ, which does things like explain the difference between an item and a pageview. (A slideshow or a multi-page article is one “item,” no matter how many slides it contains.)

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.

Rather than take full advantage of their ability to change the numbers over time, the NYT seems to have decided they’re going to launch at the kind of levels they want to see over the long term. Which is a bit weird. Instead, the NYT has sent out an email to its “loyal readers” that they’ll get “a special offer to save on our new digital subscriptions” come March 28. This seems upside-down to me: it’s the loyal readers who are most likely to pay premium rates for digital subscriptions, while everybody else is going to need a special offer to chivvy them along.

This paywall is anything but simple, with dozens of different variables for consumers to try to understand. Start with the price: the website is free, so long as you read fewer than 20 items per month, and so are the apps, so long as you confine yourself to the “Top News” section. You can also read articles for free by going in through a side door. Following links from Twitter or Facebook or Reuters.com should never be a problem, unless and until you try to navigate away from the item that was linked to.

Beyond that, $15 per four-week period gives you access to the website and also its smartphone app, while $20 gives you access to the website also its iPad app. But if you want to read the NYT on both your smartphone and your iPad, you’ll need to buy both digital subscriptions separately, and pay an eye-popping $35 every four weeks. That’s $455 a year.

The message being sent here is weird: that access to the website is worth nothing. Mathematically, if A+B=$15, A+C=$20, and A+B+C=$35, then A=$0.

About the only way that I can rationalize this is that the New York Times has deliberately decided to make itself irrelevant, as far as the Internet news-consuming public is concerned. As Felix Salmon goes on to write, there is now no point whatsoever in using the iPad app for the Times. One just ends up needlessly paying more to use the app, when one can read the Times via Safari instead, and save money. If the Times had to institute a paywall, it would have been nice if the paywall looked as though it were designed by a reasonable person. Alas, reasonableness went right out the window with the implementation of this new policy.

  • Anonymous

    Good News! No more snarky counter-posts to Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, because already barely raise the pulse to smack them when they’re free!

    Or bad news. YMMV

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