New York Times paywall: wishful thinking or just crazy?

The New York Times just announced a new paywall that will let you see 20 articles a month and thereafter redirect you to a signup for paid access. However, if you follow a NYT link from some search engines and services like Twitter, you will be able to see the article even if you have exceeded your limit.

This won't work.

Here are some predictions about the #nytpaywall:

1. No one will be able to figure out how it works. Quick: How many links did you follow to the NYT last month? I'll bet you a testicle* that you can't remember. And even if you could remember, could you tell me what proportion of them originated as a social media or search-engine link?

2. Further to that, people frequently visit the NYT without meaning to, just by following a shortened link. Oftentimes, these links go to stories you've already read (after all, you've already found someone else's description of the story interesting enough to warrant a click, so odds are high that a second or even a third ambiguous description of the same piece might attract your click), but which may or may not be "billed" to your 20-freebies limit for the month

3. And this means that lots of people are going to greet the NYT paywall with eye-rolling and frustration: You stupid piece of technology, what do you mean I've seen 20 stories this month? This is exactly the wrong frame of mind to be in when confronted with a signup page (the correct frame of mind to be in on that page is, Huh, wow, I got tons of value from the Times this month. Of course I'm going to sign up!)

4. Which means that lots of people will take countermeasures to beat the #nytpaywall. The easiest of these, of course, will be to turn off cookies so that the Times's site has no way to know how many pages you've seen this month

5. Of course, the NYT might respond by planting secret permacookies, using Flash cookies, browser detection, third-party beacons, or secret ex-Soviet vat-grown remote-sensing psychics. At the very minimum, the FTC will probably be unamused to learn that the Grey Lady is actively exploiting browser vulnerabilities (or, as the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse statute puts it, "exceeding authorized access" on a remote system -- which carries a 20 year prison sentence, incidentally)

6. Even if some miracle of regulatory capture and courtroom ninjarey puts them beyond legal repercussions for this, the major browser vendors will eventually patch these vulnerabilities

7. And even if that doesn't work, someone clever will release one or more of: a browser redirection service that pipes links to through auto-generated tweets, creating valid Twitter referrers to Times stories that aren't blocked by the paywall; or write a browser extension that sets "$VALID_TWEET_GUID", or some other clever measure that has probably already been posted to the comments below

8. The Times isn't stupid. They'll build all kinds of countermeasures to detect and thwart cookie-blocking, referer spoofing, and suchlike. These countermeasures will either be designed to err on the side of caution (in which case they will be easy to circumvent) or to err on the side of strictness -- in which case they will dump an increasing number of innocent civilians into the "You're a freeloader, pay up now" page, which is no way to convert a reader to a customer

Yes, I was going to hate this paywall no matter what the NYT did. News is a commodity: as a prolific linker, I have lots of choice about where I link to my news and the site that make my readers shout at me about a nondeterministic paywall that unpredictably swats them away isn't going to get those links. Leave out the hard news and you've got opinion, and there's no shortage of free opinion online. Some of it is pretty good (and some of what the Times publishes as opinion is pretty bad).

I'm all for finding a business-model for investigative journalism -- and yes, I know how silly it is to talk about journalistic skepticism in the same breath as the NYT, who can't even bring themselves to call torture "torture", though to be fair, it's a big paper that covers itself with both glory and shame -- but for such a business model to work, it has to be viable. A tautology as simple as that should be self-evident even to the most terrified media executive.

Meanwhile, the paywall just makes it harder to link to the Times, reducing its significance to people who use the net for news (that is, everyone with money to spend, give or take). I don't know what will work for the Times, and I applaud experimentation, but it seems to me that you should design your experiments with graceful failure modes. Spending a year or two or three not being linked to is not such a mode.

I only hope that whatever happens with this paywall, the Times is more forthcoming with its data than Rupert Murdoch's Times in the UK, who have spun and fiddled their numbers so much that it's impossible to tell how they're doing (except if they were doing well, you might imagine that they'd be a lot less obfuscatory). Those of us who love news all benefit from shared post-mortems and success stories.

*Not one of mine

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  1. The cost of paper delivery is ~$300 per year, so why would anyone purchase the all digital access or even the tablet offer?

    I have Firefox, Chrome and IE which don’t share cookies. So would I get 60 stories per month?

  2. Quick: How many links did you follow to the NYT last month? I’ll bet you a testicle* that you can’t remember.

    Hah! None. I await the delivery of my prairie oyster!

  3. You’re taking a pretty hefty leap there with point #5.

    “the FTC will probably be unamused to learn that the Grey Lady is actively exploiting browser vulnerabilities”

    The paywall is stupid and will be as successful as the last time they tried and failed to do it, but why the assumption that they’re going to end up resorting to illegal means to deter visitors?

    1. You missed the word “might” there. Mostly, #5 is about explaining that the NYT’s countermeasures will be limited by technology, law and the publicity hit from aggressive tactics..

  4. The New York Times digital-only subscription is more expensive than the print+digital subscription. For those who want digital and nothing else, perhaps they could have their paper delivered to a school or nursing home or something. Such a convoluted mess. I wish everyone the best of luck figuring it out.

  5. Unfortunately we’re going to continue to see this cycle of paywall-bust until news becomes more of a not for profit model. The only real way for a paywall to be effective is if it’s a no-kidding no-pay-no-access paywall, anything with holes will simply be a slightly more complicated free version.

  6. Great post, but I think predictions 1 through 8 could come true and the paywall could still be reasonably successful. They just have to build a sufficient speed bump that some proportion of their visitors decide it’s easier to pay a few dollars than configure their browser to spoof the site. That might be a lot of people, it might not, we’ll see.

    Comparisons with the Murdoch insanity is inevitable but probably not entirely fair. They’re allowing accessed to linked articles, as you point out. That counts. They’re also the single best source for comprehensive journalism in the world. That counts.

    And finally, now that we’re in living in app-world, people are becoming more comfortable with paying for subscriptions.

    If it’s a viable busines model, then it’s viable, even if you or I don’t like it. How’s that for a tautology.

    1. “They’re also the single best source for comprehensive journalism in the world” — this isn’t true, even for the English-speaking world (BBC, Guardian, Al-Jazeera).

      “now that we’re in living in app-world” [citation needed]

      1. I love the beeb the Guardian and Al-Jazeera, you bet. But I’d sooner see all of those go than lose the grey lady. I’ll accept counter arguments, but they really are incredibly good at getting on the ground and communicating context. They’re also kicking ass with the data-driven journalism (relatively speaking).

        And, not that this means that the paywall will be viable but: if you want to see the Guardian and (maybe) Al-Jazeera stick around, you might want to *hope* the paywall succeeds. If we lose for-profit journalism it could be a very nasty, democracy degrading few years before ProPublica et al grow up to replace it. We need this experimentation badly.

        Re: app-world citation. Umm… Walt Mossberg? OK you got me.

        1. The BBC is funded by the license fee. The Guardian is a charity (admittedly one that has been funded by an endangered car-shopping publication). Al Jazeera is making money hand over fist and is in more danger from its capricious royal patron than from bankruptcy. Wild success or dismal failure, the Times paywall really won’t have any impact on any of them.

        2. Very true. The NYT is a pillar of good journalism in America. But – they’re crazy for thinking this is a viable option.

          Freemium is the only payment model that I see succeeding for online news. It lets dedicated readers support publications they love, without alienating the rest.

          1. “Freemium is the only payment model that I see succeeding for online news. It lets dedicated readers support publications they love, without alienating the rest. ”

            Isn’t what they are proposing a freemium model? Read fewer than 20 articles, don’t pay. Pay and get unlimited access.

          2. “The NYT is a pillar of good journalism in America”…?
            Man, is your country seriously messed up.

            Judith Miller, anyone? “curveball”? waterboarding? They’re basically “The Pentagon Times” these days.

            I’m actually quite happy about the NYT paywall for the same reasons I’m happy about The Times’ own paywall (the original, Murdoch-owned UK one): average people will get a chance to disengage from long-held common-knowledge beliefs that have been false for a very long time (“The Times is a good paper”), and try something different.

            You know who’s going to pay for it ? Other media people and politicians, who have to keep up with everything that’s published. Which means the politics/media world will keep getting smaller, more self-referential and more distant from real people, day by day.

          3. Right on. Judith Miller put me right off them as an authoritative source of news, although they probably stopped being that a long time prior.

        3. The NYTimes is really very good at appearing to advance a progressive agenda while actually functioning as the mouth organ of both the Democratic and Republican parties and, more importantly, their corporate masters on Wall Street. The ‘paper of record’ is just a nice (albeit obsolete) way of saying ‘trumpet of the status quo’. See the NYTimes’ beating the drums of war in advance of the US invasion of Iraq. If you want a more recent example, see their coverage of the nuclear disaster in Japan, which was solidly upbeat, don’t panic, keep investing folks, even while the Japanese news media was revealing the cracks in the sea wall of propaganda coming out of their nuclear regulatory agency.

      2. But…but…but…so what is your business model for investigative reporting? You answered some other question, not the main one the commenter asked.

        1. “so what is your business model for investigative reporting?”

          I don’t have to know how to cure your headache in order to observe that beating your head against a brick wall isn’t improving matters.

          In other words, I don’t have anything I’m selling here; no preferred solution that the NYT should be following. The reason I am skeptical of the NYT proposal is that it doesn’t hang together as a coherent technical or commercial proposition. The fact that I don’t have a counterproposal in no way invalidates the criticism of this proposal.

          I am not the NYT’s supervisor. It doesn’t fall to me to sit down with it and have a cup of tea and explain why its performance is substandard and how it can improve. I am a journalist (indeed, I’m a journalist who sometimes works for the NYT!) and just like the journalists at the NYT, when I report critically on a company’s announcement, my job is to explain what hangs together and what doesn’t hang together about their story.

    2. Not so. The FT’s coverage, even of US politics, is significantly more detailed and balanced.

  7. >I’m all for finding a business-model for investigative journalism

    So… what would that be then? Any real suggestions? That don’t involve journalism becoming a volunteer/hobbyist career?

    It’s easy to poke holes and find fault in any (else’s) business model, and the industry has finally come around to the grim fact that page ads (at 2011 rates) aren’t a sustainable model for funding professional investigative journalism.

    And the Times new that the moments that they announced their modest proposal that it would unleash a blogger gripe-storm.

    Saying “it’ll never work!” is a lot easier than trying. And complaining is sure a lot easier than finding a solution.

  8. I like the way arstechnica does it. 50 bucks a year for no adds. I would think they would get more cash that way. Or go even cheaper for shorter amounts of time.

  9. As it stands now, any site that even makes me log in to read a story isn’t worth my time. If I hit that stupid wall I close it. I can find the same news somewhere else, I don’t care.

    They now think I am going to PAY to read and share their content? Give me a break. I will get my news elsewhere thank you very much. Watching news going down with Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Japan, Yemen, and new ones added all the time, I have 5-10 news articles open at any given time to read and decide whether to pass on. If I can’t get in, sorry, I am just closing it and moving on.

    And I am anonymous because I cant be bothered signing in to comment. Welcome to the internet! :D

  10. Hey, I’m no freeloader, and I understand that news has to be paid for. So, when I heard about the paywall, I spent a minute or two thinking about whether the NY Times would be worth it for me. I rapidly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t and cancelled all my email newsletter subscriptions.

    I concluded that I enjoyed reading its web output, and often appreciated the insight I gained into US politics and society, but not enough to sign up for a subscription. And that’s business. I don’t need them, and they don’t need me. My choice is a little circumscribed as a result, but not unbearably.

    I can think of maybe two or three news organisations whose output would be worth my paying for. Of course, as a UK resident, I’m already paying a modest monthly subscription for the comprehensive list of TV, radio, online and on-demand entertainment and news I get from the BBC, which means the subscription pitch is all the harder over here.

    The exact reason, in fact, why Murdoch’s evil empire spends so much energy trying to have it starved of funds and political support. Whereas my more clear-thinking compatriots and I regard the fee as a kind of insurance policy against having to get our news and TV programming from NewsCorp. Very reasonable at twice the price.

    If we’re nominating our picks for “the single best source for comprehensive journalism in the world” I think the BBC has to be at least in the mix…

  11. I just saw this while reading the NYTimes site, which is the main place I check in for the news on the internet. I understand their problem, but my initial reaction was that I wasn’t going to pay. I might be up for a smaller fee that you just pay up-front without counting, without first seeing if your article is on google and clicking-in that way.

    Won’t there just be google access to all articles, making the paywall useless?

  12. The ‘grey lady’ has repeatedly over the last decade shown herself to be a whore for power, a near-worthless institution for American democracy (or at least no more worthy an institution than any other newspaper) and an embarrassment to the concept that journalism is for speaking truth to power.

    BTW, Cory… “Even if some miracle of regulatory capture and courtroom ninjarey puts them beyond legal repercussions for this”

    I believe the correct term is “ninjitsification’…

  13. NYT already requires you to log in to see most newspaper content. I’d place bets on the count of articles viewed being tied to that login (and on their servers), not to a cookie on your local box.

    1. That doesn’t seem right. Once you’ve logged in, cookies keep the connection “alive” and the paper aware that you’re reading a particular piece. You can exit your browser, come back later, and dive right in to a new story without having to log back in again. (Or have I been smoking too much wacky tobacky again?)

    2. NYT used to require login, but they don’t seem to anymore. If I sign out and delete all my cookies, I can still read any article.

  14. This new strategy really smells as though it was developed by a committee. And no, you can’t use one of my testicles either.

  15. I think your dead on with all of your points, save number 5. That one is a bit misleading. Your use of the word “might” in the first sentence of that paragraph doesn’t extend to the second one. It may be nit picking, but the impression that I get when I read that line is that “the Grey Lady is actively exploiting browser vulnerabilities”. You have a better wording with your comment: “NYT’s countermeasures will be limited by technology, law and the publicity hit from aggressive tactics”.

    They tried a paywall once before. It didn’t bring the revenue in before. Are they counting on the revenue from their iPad app users? Inside the curated walled garden of Apple, you could lock in a subscription model. Whether or not the people will pay is another story.

  16. My reaction?

    sudo echo “” >> /etc/hosts

    That’s a storied list of peers you’ll be joining, New York Times–what with the likes of and anything Adobe Acrobat tries to contact (and I *pay* for Acrobat).

  17. The paywall is purposefully aimed at the top 5% of users. 95% of NYT users will not be affected by this at all. They’ve been very upfront with these numbers.

  18. It costs what at the newsstand, .50 cents? I read it every day, seems fair.

    Don’t tell them I said that though. I left a snarky comment on their site saying that I’d pay $15 for the NYT that published the Pentagon Papers but not the one that refuses to define US water boarding as torture…

    1. I’d pay $15 for the NYT that published the Pentagon Papers but not the one that refuses to define US water boarding as torture

      Just wanted to see that repeated. Well said. I don’t even want to browse accidentally over to the NYT. Or, at this point, the Boston Globe, another of their papers.

    2. Don’t tell them I said that though. I left a snarky comment on their site saying that I’d pay $15 for the NYT that published the Pentagon Papers but not the one that refuses to define US water boarding as torture…

      You give them too much credit! The New York Times heavily censored the Pentagon Papers of their own free will. Because no newspaper was willing to publish them uncensored, Senator Mike Gravel colluded with Ellsberg and the Unitarian Universalist Church to get the lot published by Beacon Press, using UU money.

      Senator Gravel used his senatorial privilege to read the papers into the congressional record, thus making them legally public, so the Nixon administration was unable to suppress publication. Kissinger wanted Gravel hung for treason, of course, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor.

      The NYT deserves very little credit in the whole Pentagon Papers fiasco – primarily kudos should go to Ellsberg and Gravel, although some should also be extended to the Unitarian Universalist Church’s publishing house, Beacon Press, who continue to publish controversial material nobody else will touch. The New York Times just wanted to sell papers, and it was the only scoop in town.

    3. yeah, you read it every day at 50 cents in 1984. The newsstand cost —in NYC– is $2.00 per weekday, $6 for the Sunday edition. Higher in other markets, brainiac.

  19. They’re free to hide their website behind a paywall, I’m free to evaluate and decide that the NYT isn’t worth 15$ USD/months, giving that I very much prefer the Guardian, BBC and Al Jazeera for international news.

    And I’m not categorically opposed to paying for web contents, I just started a new annual subscription to even if all the articles are available after a week and you can easily find free subscriber’s links with Google.

  20. who is going to pay for right wing Rupert Murdoch propaganda thats probably partially written by the CIA?

    has the NYT ever called torture torture or are they pure propaganda channel?

  21. Thank God they’re finally charging. Otherwise they’d become another shitty paper just laying off reporters left and right. (Spoken as an ex-employee.)

    Very happy to pay for the value I will receive. The rest of you can read Al Jazeera and AOL News.

  22. “Meanwhile, the paywall just makes it harder to link to the Times, reducing its significance to people who use the net for news (that is, everyone with money to spend, give or take).”

    Give or take a lot, probably. Given the number of 20-somethings who 1) believe having internet access is a default position and 2) are scraping by on whatever scraps left to them by the recession, I’d say there’s a sizeable number of people who will look at this and wonder how they’ll fit it in their budget.

    That goes double for if this kind of model manages to spread to other outlets. And given print media’s penchant for desperately hitching wagons to the next best thing in a way that can only be described as flailing, this model IS likely to spread, even if it will eventually fail for all the reasons Cory cites.

    I know I fall into the group of people for whom gaining access to one walled garden, let alone a series of them, will be a stretch. I’ll hardly be the only one.

  23. I have a stupidly long train commute and no data plan on my phone so the NYTimes on my iPod is a great offline resource to have. I do think $15/month is a bit high, but luckily there’s a way to get this lower. *Any* print subscription gets you access to *all* the digital content on *all* your devices, and it just so happens that the cheapest print subscription is to the NYTimes Review of Books–$1.75/week. That’s less than half the going digital-only rate.

    I don’t actually read the Review of Books that arrives in my mailbox every week. I use it as fire starter.

  24. Know where you can read the NY Times, free to you, online, as much as you want? Your public library’s databases. Your tax dollars are already paying for it. Just get a card and log in.

  25. The NYT makes bad decisions about reporting and now it’s making a bad technological decision. I haven’t read any of their articles in the past year that wasn’t linked to by a more reliable collator and required no sign-in. So long, NYT.

    @14: Ninjaley would include a Latin cognate for “law”

  26. Interesting that the 20 article count resets on the calendar month, rather than a rolling 30 days. Should produce some interesting traffic spikes. I wonder if ad prices will be higher for the first week of the month.

    Also, apparently individual posts on blogs count as full articles. Krugman saying he’s going on vacation =/= a Sunday Times magazine 10 pager. Guess I’ll have to drop my RSS feeds for the twitter feeds instead.

  27. 9. If a person doesn’t want to pay the price that a business is selling it’s goods for that person has no right to expect the business to give them the product for free.

    1. By the same token, any business that uses a business model that doesn’t work anymore due to technological advance is not entitled to force it’s business model on future businesses. It needs to come up with a new business model. What Cory is saying isn’t that the NYTimes shouldn’t have the right to charge what and how they choose. It’s a PREDICTION (which as an SF author he’s pretty much predestined to make) that this will hasten rather than slow it’s demise.

  28. News-gathering and reporting isn’t free so some payment scheme is not unreasonable. I contribute to public radio for the same reason.

    But $195/year is too steep. About $80 would be OK

    1. Yes, I also think they’ve chosen to charge too much for their online content (and that the maximum of 20 free articles is too low). I’m willing to pay $5 to $10 a month, but not $15.

      Some months, I don’t read/view NYT “content pieces” (e.g., articles/slideshows/videos) at all or maybe a few, some months 20 or so and other months more than 200. Maybe a different “metering” system based upon the number of content pieces a person reads each month (with number of articles read counted by logging in with user name, not by cookies) would be more fair on the whole. Something akin to:

      1-49 (content pieces): Free
      50-99: $2.50
      100-149: $5
      150-199: $7.50
      200+: $10

      There must be more than 50 articles in a single weekday print edition of the NYT, which costs (I think) $2 at the newsstand or $7.40 per week (M-F) subscription via mail, so the above options would seem reasonable to me. Or, maybe a system like this just makes things more complicated for everyone reading/viewing online.

      I know it’s a tough call for them, and I’m willing to pay for the online content they produce, and which I enjoy, but I’m not willing to budget for their prices.

  29. This is a really negative approach to something that could save the market. In my town, Columbia, Mo., our local paper also put up a pay wall that only allows readers to see 10 articles a month. So far, they haven’t lost any money and it’s even cut down on some of the trolling and flaming in their comments section. I think it’s great the NYT is pursuing a pay wall — if this doesn’t work, they can try another approach. I think it will help other newspapers who are floundering in the market to get inspired to do the same and save their papers.

  30. Newspapers are dying, all while people get their results of their work for free. They should do this.

    More to the point: BB makes money linking to things, and you admit your have a customer service problem when your users hit a paywall on the way out. You shouldn’t be relying on someone else’s work to keep your customers happy.

    1. Links to NYT from BoingBoing and other blogs will remain free. This is just 1) a way for fans to give NYT some money and 2) a tax on the technologically stupid and the lazy. Anyone can get around it pretty easily.

  31. The NYT has proven time and time again with their reporting that they are only on their own side and are not afraid to be user-hostile. This development is completely consistent with their customer ethic.

  32. I predict in addition to readers, their their columnists and advertisers will HATE this.

    Who wants to write for a paper that practically guarantees your content won’t be read except by a select few (those willing to pay)?

    And advertisers? Who wants to pay money to ensure that their ads won’t be seen, except by that same select few who are willing to pay?

    Nope, I won’t pay. I probably won’t actively try to get around their paywall either, I’ll just end up ignoring the NYT’s content altogether. There are lots of other places to read new on the web, and the NYT doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on reporting about what’s happening in the world.

  33. I get the paper M-F and its about 30 bucks a month. I feel like that’s reasonable. Geez, how much do people pay for their cell phones? 100 bucks a month? More? I also spend about 2 or 3 hours on their website every day. I suppose an extra 15 bucks a month seems fair enough considering how much I rely on this one resource.

    There is much, much more to the NYT than the don’t-say-torture thing. Please. Moral outrage has its place, but when its the same point, again and again, I suspect its a kind of habit, or crutch and it prevents us from seeing the larger picture. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, etc.

    I want to see the NYT expand. Hopefully there are enough people willing to participate in their revenue model to ensure the NYT continues to do what it does and even grow. With papers starving away around the world, the least we can do is support the last best one we have.

    1. “There is much, much more to the NYT than the don’t-say-torture thing.”

      No, actually, there isn’t. If one’s morals are questionable in one area, they are most likely questionable in other areas as well. This is not a moral position people of good conscience ascribe to.

  34. They want to charge you more to read thier content using their tablet apps than their smartphone apps. When you can read it on any device via a browser for the lesser amount. And using a browser is the best, most flexible, most reliable method of reading it anyway.

    But reading their description of the tablet app seems to reveal their thinking – the tablet apps make it look more like the printed paper and so they believe that makes it more valuable! Yes folks, step right up and let us charge you more for better dead tree emulation!

  35. You know what chaps my ass? People thinking that you should pay for content. Man, the NYT and their reporters should just be happy that they have the privilege to investigate the news and report on it. They should be thanking me for reading their website. $15 a month? Are you kidding? That’s 3 beers at a bar. No way am I going to support their extortion. Give your work away for free, or get lost.

  36. Lots of complaints in this article and from other blog like sites. Simple questions remains, if you actually *produce* content which requires investigation, interviewing many people, thinking about things, then writing how do you pay for this? The blog model of reposting other people’s work with a paragraph of ‘writing’ doesn’t work for real content.

    What, in simple terms, is your recommendation for paying for real investigative journalism ?

  37. I would rather pay per article. After all, I don’t want to read all the news, but I’d gladly pay 10 cents here and 10 cents there for the articles I do want to read, rather than paying $200 a year for all of something I can’t and don’t want to read all of.

    I wonder when newspapers will realize that their most saleable content is their individual articles, not the paper as a whole–but will give access to both, in the same way that when music moved online the model changed from album sales to song sales, with albums available, should you desire to buy an entire album instead.

    1. I agree with the idea of paying per article. I doubt most of us read an entire newspaper including all of its various sections. For me at least I read articles that are most relevant to my life, context, and profession.

      I am willing to pay for good quality journalism and writing as a)goods/services are not free-you’re under an illusion if you believe otherwise b)it is only fair to pay working professionals c)help maintain the high standard and integrity of investigative journalism

  38. We subscribe to the daily NYTimes and LATimes. Also the Forward. I read a number of online news sources. The NYTimes is the last one I would give up, if I had to give one up – it just has the best writing! Even the letters are better-written than the LA Times letters – better than some of the LA Times articles! I want them to be able to pay their employees.
    “News” may be a commodity, but good writing is not.

  39. I thought the last time they did this they shot themselves in the foot.

    Given that and their rather current poor attention to always serving the reading public, unless it serves them in some fashion, doesn’t make their subscription fee all that attractive to me.

    Once their web site attempted to download a virus onto my computer, and the Times belatedly attempted to parse the problem off as not their fault, they basically lost any interest I had in feeling that they should survive.

    I’m not adverse to paying some fees where it’s warranted, but given their ongoing track record to serving the interests of power in this culture vs the actual information in hand, that will make their loss easier to take, especially considering that most of the information they present is available from other providers.

  40. Somehow the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker, both of which do quite a bit of quality journalism, have managed to put most of their web content behind paywalls and do just fine. I’m pretty sure the NY Times will do OK, too.

    This is a fairly low-key paywall. Many people — those who don’t read that much Times content — aren’t even going to notice it. For those who do, I doubt that the specific complexities of the paywall policy are going to frustrate them, tho the existence of the wall itself may be an annoyance. But if you encounter it, it’s an indicator that you must be a relatively heavy Times reader, and might want to think about paying for the product you obviously value.

    Yes, the paywall can be circumvented in various ways. The Times employs plenty of web-savvy people, so it’s absolutely certain that they not only know this, but intend it to be so. Its leakiness is not a bug, it’s a feature.

    Think of it like one of those public transit systems that relies on the honor system — supplemented by spot checks — for fare collection. They know some people will cheat. Even so, they’ll still make a decent amount of money… and they won’t waste too much time or money on the fantasy of building and enforcing an absolutely impregnable system.

    Disclaimer: A member of my household has been paid to write occasional pieces for the NY Times. I would like her to continue to be able to be paid for her writing. She is also quite willing to pay for Times content on her iPad, because she values the large amount of quality writing and photography the paper produces.

    But hey, if you really think “news is a commodity” and that Times-level journalism (notwithstanding the crappier stuff, including the waffling on torture, Judith Miller, etc.) grows on trees, so be it. Go elsewhere for what you believe to be equivalent quality news. Or circumvent the paywall, and prove that you actually DO value the Times but just don’t want to pay for it.

    1. As someone who’s written a cover feature for the NYT Sunday Magazine (as well as lots of interior material for the mag and the paper), I think I’m qualified to assert that news is a commodity. Clearly reported facts about the world are widely available from multiple sources, and these sources are largely interchangeable. That doesn’t mean that they are low quality — it means that exclusion strategies are unlikely to be effective (this is why the New Yorker and WSJ examples aren’t germane; neither of these are primarily news entities; the former is a respository of long-form entertainment essays; the latter is real-time expert analysis of financial news — if the economics of financial news applied more broadly then every xeroxed zine would sell for $10,000/page because xeroxed investor newsletters sell for $10,000/page).

      Re Anon: “BB makes money linking to things, and you admit your have a customer service problem when your users hit a paywall on the way out. You shouldn’t be relying on someone else’s work to keep your customers happy.”

      The NYT also makes its living linking to things and trading on the work of others. Every media business does. I literally get 5-10 “interview” requests a day (including from the NYT) that are a questionnaire of essay questions, each of which could be written and sold under my own by-line. The NYT maintains prolific blogs, which are wont to link to Boing Boing (and for which they will shortly be charging for access). Arguing that linking is bad web-practice is so wrong on its face that it barely warrants mention, so I’ll leave it there.

      1. OK, I’ll grant that “news” in the broad sense is a commodity — I can read AP stories for free on Yahoo and lots of other places.

        But I’ll go with what lectio said: “news is a commodity, and well-reported news is a rarity.” The NYT does add a lot of value to the news (even if they also sometimes make me grind my teeth at their particular spin).

        To call the New Yorker “a respository of long-form entertainment essays” and the WSJ “real-time expert analysis of financial news” is drastic understatement.

        I subscribe to the New Yorker and value its excellent long-form serious journalism more than almost anything else in the magazine (but the cultural coverage is good too). Their reporting on science, medicine, economics, war, legal affairs, and many other “newsy” topics is superb.

        I skim copies of the WSJ regularly at my office. Yes, they specialize in finance, but they are not a financial newsletter — they are a full-fledged national and international daily paper, comparable in many ways to the NY Times and the Washington Post in the breadth and depth of their reporting.

        No, they aren’t identical to the NYT. And their paywalls aren’t identical to the NYT’s paywall. The point is, carefully calibrated paywalls can work… and have worked for those publications for years. I don’t know whether the Times’ current version will work — their 1.0 iteration didn’t. I don’t know if the price point is right — it’s on the high side for my taste. But I don’t believe it’s inevitably doomed to failure.

  41. I have no problem with the NYT charging for online content. That’s what will keep this content viable in the long-term, and their iphone app is flawless. I’m just wondering what genius came up with the figure of $15/month for the iphone app subscription. $5/mo? won’t even have to think about it. Done. $9.99/mo? mmmmm, a little tougher, but OK. $15? and it doesn’t include web access? guess what, I just downloaded the ProPublic and Guardian apps. I don’t NEED the NYT, it was just part of my entertainment budget, and frankly I only really use it on my ipod touch about 3-4 times a week. so long.

  42. Fifteen bucks a month sounds reasonable, if the NYT is the only news you read (and if that’s the case God help you). But the web is a global resource, with the web I can read news from all over the world – I can read my own nation’s papers, plus the NYT, the Washington Post, The Guardian, the Independent, The Telegraph and so on. And that’s just newspaper sites of course.

    Thanks to the World Wide Web (sometimes the full title is significant) I can see how the Japanese earthquake and nuclear crisis is being reported in Australia, the UK, USA, Japan and anywhere else I choose, I’m not getting just one company’s (or one culture’s) take on global issues. That’s something you could never afford to do prior to the web. You were stuck with your local papers (usually you only bought and read one) plus local TV and radio news (which certainly hasn’t improved recently). You knew virtually nothing (compared to today) about what was going on in the rest of the world.

    If they all start charging like the NYT and The Times you won’t be able to afford to read more than one or two news sources, it’ll be like the bad old days of dead tree news (which of course suits Murdoch and the other news magnates just fine). Good for business but terrible for democracy and an informed populace.

  43. Remember your article earlier in the week about software piracy in developing nations?

    I’m in South Africa. I love the NY times website, i read it every day at lunchtime. Its about a million times better than any local news sources.

    $35 a month? I *might* pay $35 a year! For $35 a month I could get satellite TV, which I currently don’t have. Or triple my internet connection speed and cap. Obviously they don’t care about international users with crappy exchange rates.

  44. Some value in this strategy must be to keep paper circulation numbers up. That sounds like the cheapest way to get access online, and higher circulation numbers must boost revenue from printed ads, even if the paper itself is only used as kindling.

    Personally, I hate dealing with that much paper.

  45. OK, “a pillar of good journalism in America”, fine. I’m glad for America’s sake that they do have one good journalistic source, but there are other people in the world and the rest of the world does know how to write and report.

  46. News is not a commodity; my attention is a commodity. Television networks followed this model for decades: draw revenue from advertisers selling access to consumers, and draw in viewers (potential consumers) by providing them with content. Revenue of ads – expenditure of content = huge profits. Everyone gave something and got something. Networks got profits by giving content; advertisers got eyeballs by paying cash mo-nay; viewers got content (though content over which they had very limited control) by giving their attention to ads.

    So what is the NYT giving you for your attention?

  47. Oh well, I’ll just use the 8 other news outlets that don’t charge, or make up their news. Besides the Christian Science Monitor and to a much lesser extent NPR, I pretty much ignore American media all together anyway.

  48. good for them. i can’t even be bothered to put in a free account name/password to get their restricted articles as it is. i used to put a lot more faith in their writing and actually cared what they had to say but after reading a lot of very misinformed scientific articles (which come off to the layman as accurate) i don’t even care. there are plenty of other more accurate and better written news sources available (!) and i really couldn’t care less if they are going to try some ill-advised way of charging people for content. people will just stop using them as a news source.

  49. If I’m a subscriber to the NY Times, do I get through the paywall for free?

    How about if I read my neighbors paper and then fold it back up and put it back in the plastic bag before he wakes up? Can I have his paywall pass?

    I’m still mad at the NY Times for cheerleading the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wouldn’t give them my money if they were the last source of corporate news on the planet.

  50. Here’s reason number 10:
    Even if they have amazing tracking technology and that only a minority of people will circumvent it, trying to track if people have accessed 20 articles that month is crazy, as the majority of people use more than one computer. People access content from the combination of their mobile devices, their own desktop/laptop, their computer at work/school/library.

    Also a comment on reason #5, in Flash Player 10.3 that Adobe currently has in beta, Flash cookies (or ShareObjects) will be deleted when you clear out your browser’s cookies through your browsers’ UI. Adobe has got the beta working with IE8 and Firefox 4 and said it will work with future versions of Safari and Chrome. All advertisers who have used that method to track users will be finding it a lot less useful in the near future.

  51. The New York Times wants to charge $180 for web access. The WSJ charges $155. I’m not really sure of what they were thinking, especially given the failure of their $60 service. Given how close the web price is to the paper price, there is no real sense of value added. Still, I suppose they might make a go of it, though I have fewer and fewer friends in New York who still go for either the paper or web edition.

  52. PAY ME: What if NYT and others charged for subscription BUT paid subscribers a pittance each time they sent out a article link on twitter , facebook etc – so say subscription is $20 / month but if you send out say 100 links voila you get a $20 credit – your subscription is free and NYT gets 100 outgoing links! Win win

  53. If you live in the tri-state area, this is a no-brainer.

    If you live outside the tri-state area:

    1. Find an online white pages and call random people in Manhattan (or Jersey, if you like). It won’t take a minute to find someone who wants the Weekender package for free.
    2. Sign them up and assign your UserID to the package.
    3. Profit.

    They get the best weekend paper on the planet to curl up with in front of the fire. You get a laundry list of perks that print subscribers get on-line that they probably won’t give to the e-folk. Online crosswords and a very good e-version of the printed paper come to mind. Best of all? It’s perfectly aboveboard. If you really want to game them, call you new best friends back east and share the UserID with them.

  54. Pixel23: You are awesome. Thank you. The NYT Book Review does, indeed, count as a Home Subscription for free access (computer, smartphone, iPad). I just got a Free Access conformation email after subscribing. The NYT isn’t providing the Book Review as a Home Subscription option to check on their home subscription page: People wouldn’t know this unless someone pointed it out.

  55. “or some other clever measure that has probably already been posted to the comments below”

    What I do for Variety and other paywall publications is:

    1. Copy & paste the title or URL into Google (or your Chrome browser’s address bar); the article will pull up, click the link, and you’re in. If that doesn’t work (it usually does and should in this case), then:

    2. Go to and enter the title. Some blogger somewhere will have posted the entire text of the article. And be getting monster, paywall-driven traffic as a result.

    I always make it a point to click a few ads to thank them — which I believe is standard practice for knowledgeable digerati.

    I used to do that at the NY Times, too, but when I’m locked out, I guess I won’t be clicking the NYT’s ads in the future.

    Of course, the real problem with #1 is that there in my search results are always similar, hassle-free, guiltless articles on the same story, so I’m sure that over time, I will increasingly go to those sources instead. The welcoming ones.

  56. See how APPLE’s app store makes money, that does prove the paywall can work provided the price is right. $15/mo is too much.

    NYT gives value but if the price does not fit the bill then people will try other means to access it if that fails they will simply ignore value period. You tube has no quality but it is famous that should say a lot about importance of value.

  57. I agree – news is a commodity, and well-reported news is a rarity. I’ve been a subscriber to the NYT for years now. I started off with the paper edition when I got my first job after graduation, but it was hard to get home delivery in Canada (my paper came to me via Seattle and was frequently – and suspiciously – wet). I switched to a weird Flash subscription through NewsStand, and finally made the move over to the Times 2.0 Digital Reader a couple of years ago.

    Lots of people have said to me that I could just get the news for free, and I suppose I could (until now!). But I still value the reporting in the NYT, and I’d like to see journalism continue to be a paid gig instead of something we come to expect people to do for free. And the digital edition has given me ad-free reading, which is something I really appreciate.

    It’s not perfect journalism. But I’m okay with paying for it.

  58. didn’t they already do this ? NYT premium or some such which ultimately went down in flames, and quickly if I remember correctly. Why the need to limit access again? I’d be happy (and did) pay a fee for the NYTs, but not with a model where I have to fret whether I’m reading it TOO MUCH??!!

  59. Hi all,

    I’m a frequent,faithful, and frugal NYTimes digital reader. I’m not opposed to the idea–just quibbling about the price.

    No one complains about Consumer Reports Pay Wall. CR charges $26/year and frankly it comes in pretty handy even when buying just one or two big-purchases per year. Basically it’s less than one month of the ‘data plan’ portion of my cell phone bill.

    I’d be happy to pay for the NYT if the price was lower –i.e. in the $50/year range. I’ll probably limit my NYTimes reading rather then shell out $200/year.

    That said, I also happily subscribe to the economist–print with a great electronic edition (that is unless you have an android phone). That’s about $75/year (when you renew over Christmas ).

    Again, it’s perception. FBOW I’m used to “lowish cost or free reading”. For two android phones with minimal data plans, we shell out $1800/year. Who’s to say the NYT isn’t worth 11% another 11%.

  60. I think a 3rd party service that has its own login, and charges 1-2 cents (or a little more for a lower tier subscription) per article read (across all news paper sites and whatever else similar that partners with the 3rd party) would be great model. Users would get one charge to their credit card per month for all articles read and would probably amount to a couple dollars for most casual readers.

  61. Many here have made great points so I’ll avoid my usual impulse to over do it.

    One benefit from the much anticipated drop-off in Times’ readers will be that the number of people whose mind is polluted by David Brooks columns is sure to decrease. That, by any measure, is a very good thing.

  62. Ok, maybe I missed it skimming the comments — but what I read (on the NYT website) was that articles you reach via search engines or other sites or from people forwarding it to you don’t count in the 20 article limit. So I’m counting on Boing Boing to link to the most important articles!

  63. One thing I think they should have done: Keep putting it up free, as it is now. Charge a premium to join the “NY Times Club” or whatever, which allows you to post comments and have a profile on their site. You could put a URL for your blog or whatever on the profile–no nofollow tags or anything (and of course, an appropriate TOS to keep the spam out). The regular commenters on the site, those people who write “analysis” of every single news item (I’m looking at you, Constant Weader), would surely sign up. Also, members could have some sort of interaction with reporters or editors or something, maybe even invitations to live forums with investigative journalists, authors, whatever.
    I’m disappointed because I am a heavy user of the site and I actually would like to support it somehow but the pricing seems quite high to me.

    1. This is Roger Ebert’s model. His “club” is $5.00 per year ($10.00) for new members. I signed up the second it was announced because the price was so reasonable.

      The Times is trying to support the paper edition. If they charged $5.00 (or something reasonable) per person per year they would probably have more subscribers than following the announced model. But if they did that they would be abandoning the hard copy.

      1. Yeah, I stole at least part of that idea from Ebert. :) I also thought the Times should leverage their overpopulated comments section–comments for members only, or prioritized. Maybe even have writers respond to members’ questions in the comments sections.

    2. Market research showed NYTimes readers didn’t want tote bags or badges. Membership model didn’t appeal to the ones willing to pay.

  64. … More a shrubbery than a wall and easily “o’erperched” even without “love’s light wings”.

    This is just a timid first step by a company still struggling to decide how to move forward, given a founding proposition (“all the news”, etc) that is most unfortunate in our digital present.

    I actually bothered to write it all down — the whole blessed theory which is mine — in long-hand here … [ ]

  65. Stonewall the Paywall

    Even if you subscribe to the home delivery service you must log in and give up your privacy to access the online content. I like #76’s suggest to boycott the paywall, but —

    “… these (Facebook privacy) tools have grown increasingly convoluted, leaving many users frustrated and unsure of what information is available to whom.” – NYT

    I will follow the simple, classic, boycott method and end my home delivery subscription after a lifetime of Sunday crossword puzzles.

    Ben Ursa

  66. People who live in China cannot access twitter, facebook or international blogs.

    They cannot pay $ for a subscription because their currency is not convertible. Even if they could, most people could never afford what NYT is asking.

    And their local news is heavily biased and censored by the Communist party.

    What a pity that these people will now be limited to 20 articles/month. Not just for them, but for the entire world.

    I hope an alternative is provided so people living under censorship can have free access to alternative sources of information.

  67. wjbjr
    Yes, the NYT does keep track, in detail, of our reading habits. To find your history for the past 30 days, go to:

    and click on “go here” in the first paragraph. (This might apply only to registered readers.) My history revealed that I had opened 166 articles in 10 different sections, 98 of them in Opinion. As you can tell, I was a bit over the 20 article free limit.

    But now comes the good news. I clicked on an article last night and up popped a page stating that since I was a loyal (read nightly and heavy) reader, I had been chosen to receive free unlimited access for the balance of 2011, courtesy of Lincoln (automobiles). I quickly accepted and received a confirmation from I might end up having to buy a Lincoln, but will not have to pay for The Times.

  68. When you say news is a “commodity” you insult journalists. There is such a thing as quality, and that is precisely why many of us choose to read The New York Times — for its quality.

  69. Our family subscribes to the print NYT, but my husband takes it with him on his commute to work. no problem, since I read the main stories on my iPhone, and log in later at work if I want to comment. If I understand the terms of this paywall correctly, they have not made arrangements for multiple logins to be attached to one user account. So, my husband’s login is probably the only one that will work for both viewing and commenting on articles! I cannot even begin to describe how pissed off I am about this.

  70. The Times has a reputation for the best journalism. But I’ve been reading several sources over and over again on the nuclear disaster, and the LA Times has consistently had better written and organized stories than the Times, and has done some original reporting that other papers haven’t. For me, this has put the lie to the assertion that the Times is best. Not necessarily. (How the LA Times will survive is a problem for another context.) Also, I second the resentment at the Times’ corporatism, arrogance and cheerleading for the current wars that others have expressed here. Finally, last but not least, its demise would put a possibly fatal shot in the career of that smug, insufferable Thomas L. Friedman, who not only cheer-led for the Iraq War but was one of the two or three leading cheerleaders. His continued presence as chief foreign affairs columnist is the Times’ arrogant way of telling its readers, we decide, you don’t count. Anything that helps shut Friedman up is good for the world.

  71. Re. The side discussion about The New Yorker. The New Yorker doesn’t make money in the grand scheme of Conde Nast publications; it probably loses money. It exists entirely because Si Newhouse wants it to exist. It lost money its first 18 years of existence. It started to make money briefly, but it’s largely accepted in the media industry that it’s a loser. But, it carries a massive amount of prestige. So it stays.

    The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, has been an interesting case. The paper has gone from a financials newspaper to a general-interest newspaper, but it still hasn’t lost many paid subscribers. My guess is that if you’re in finance, how do you NOT have a subscription, even though it is clearly worse at finance reporting and institutional subscriptions, like banks, likely have a very slow turnover in dumping the paper.

  72. Cory, people who delete cookies or take other counter measures are mere fringe effects that shouldn’t have effects on the overall revenue. (I’m sure among the Boing Boing readership, such people make up a larger percentage, but that’s a biased sample.) If the NYT wants to target the pockets of daily readers, then simple cookie checking could be enough, and all they want and need.

    The real issue for the NYT, I suspect, is losing the goodwill of bloggers and such, who fear that by linking to them, they’ll expose their readers to trouble. This attitude could lose the NYT a good deal of future prospective readers (and those readers’ pockets).

  73. Oh please, PLEASE tell me that Boing Boing’s April Fool’s Day joke this year will be the announcement of a BB subscription paywall. I think every one of us would die laughing over that announcement.

  74. Wait. BBC and Al Jazera are better sources than the Times? I disagree, but even conceding your point, they’re certainly only so for international coverage and, well, call me a navel-gazer, but I like to know what’s going on in my own country as well. You don’t like a paywall but don’t have a problem with a state-enforced public funding (BBC) on the one hand and an organization funded by and at the whims of one very wealthy and powerful person (Al Jazera)? Is the Beeb’s license fee more palatable because its collected by the government and backed up by the threat of punishment? Or is it just because you don’t have to pay it?

  75. The New York Times has ignored completely its fans outside the U.S., especially in Asia and Africa. During 1960s, I could easily subscribe to The Times, though by surface mail. Now its price and postage will take my leg and arm to subscribe to the real thing. Even subscription to the digital edition is not feasible due to high exchange rate for my currency.
    I have a plan to make The Times quite affordable for readers both in the U.S. and abroad, if it is interested.
    M A Hameed, in Lahore, Pakistan

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