Breaking the NYT paywall; will it ever work?

Dateline: Wed 23 Mar 2011

This is from Nieman Journalism Lab, part of Harvard University, and written by Joshua Benton.  The key sentences: "There is no one consistent, workable price for online news content. For the vast majority of people who read a news site, the price they're willing to pay is zero." Benton then goes on to explain how the trick is to maximize revenue generated from these two viewpoints, plus all those in between....and besides all that, the paywall is not secure....

Here's Benton:

"The New York Times paywall is costing the newspaper $40-$50 million to design and construct, Bloomberg has reported.

"And it can be defeated through four lines of Javascript.

"That fact is both the problem and the opportunity of a leaky paywall. There is no one consistent, workable price for online news content. For the vast majority of people who read a news site, the price they’re willing to pay is zero; for a few, it’s something more. The key question of the Times paywall — and of any paywall, really — is how to maximize the revenue generated from those two extremes and the various gradations in between.

"The Times’ approach is to create a relatively high price point — $15 to $35 a month, depending on the package — for those willing to pay. For those who are very casual fly-by readers — those who read fewer than 20 articles a month — the site remains free, and the Times makes money from advertising. And for those in the middle — readers who lack the brand loyalty to want to pay, but nonetheless like to see Times stories pop up in their Twitter feed — the social media “leak” in the paywall will keep letting them in for ads.

"That kind of nuance makes for a much more precise instrument than a blunt-force paywall. But it also puts the onus on you to get all that nuance right. Get it wrong and you risk angering readers — or letting would-be paying customers in for free.

"The Times paywall doesn’t launch in the United States for another week; the paper has plenty of time to plug this particular Javascript vulnerability, which goes by the name NYTClean, if it wants to. But the real question is: Is this a hole they really want closed? Or is this one of the intentional leaks in the wall?"


hendy [Member] said:

The NYT is making a horrible mistake here, IMHO. The holes will be filled up so that you can't sneak in past the 20 or so articles/mo you're allowed. I have no doubt it will work 'correctly'.

The bigger question is whether the NYT can increase its value to readers sufficiently to make those readers pay for it. Certainly some will, but those that have paper subscriptions get in free anyway. There will be politicos, and business people, and others that can expense the cost. For others, including those on fixed incomes: they're screwed.

My guess: this fails and the NYT distracts us while it embarrassingly pulls the plug within a year.

2011-03-24 08:15:38

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

Make that, "those who sacrifice other things to pay $800 a year for a NYT subscription earn the right to access that content online." Don't for a moment think we're getting it for free.

2011-03-24 08:46:53

hendy [Member] said:

Lemme see, NYT sub, or trip to Hawai'i? NYT sub or new 42" digital TV? NYT sub or new set of Michelins? NYT sub or WFYI contribution? NYT or 228gals of gasoline @ $3.50 a gallon?

We're getting it for free. $800/yr is insanity incarnate for an NYT sub. I'm sure there are those that can 'expense it'. Good for them. The next day, it's birdcage liner.

2011-03-24 11:47:09

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

Oh please. I have been to Hawaii, gotten a new set of tires and been a longtime contributor to WFYI, all while subscribing to a newspaper I highly value for its worldwide newsgathering operations, excellent writing and thoughtful op-ed page. But you got me on the teevee. My 1994 RCA built in Indianapolis still works great.

The Times never should have devalued its content by offering it for free, but hey, it's a new world and they're trying to adapt. People who have the means will pay for what they value if they are reasonable. Those who refuse to pay and take it for free are leeches who deserve the world they'll get without the power of an independent press.

Now I want to know: how do you go to Hawaii for just $800, and where are you finding gasoline for $3.50/gallon?

2011-03-24 13:27:14

hendy [Member] said:

You go to Orbitz, and do hotel+airfare. There are increasing deals because of the Japanese malaise. I saw $3.39 on the S Side of Indy on my way back to Bloomington yesterday, but $3.49 at 465@Harding was good, too. It'll go down. Watch.

As regards your belief that the NYT's content has paywall value, may I suggest that your vision is very 1990's. The rest of the world moved on. SFGate.Com often has more Indiana news than the now-not-venerable Star. Yes, it's ad-supported online. But fawning over the NYT ignores the reality of the worth of content online. It's a new model, maybe a dozen years old, called ad-supported.

My suggestion: look into what are called RSS feeds, and learn who posts most quickly, has the best content, and who will survive the post-paper world. It's not going to happen tomorrow, or even this decade. But paper as we read news on will vanish in a decade. The online subscriber model works only for local news, and then it competes with other sources, like TV/radio. I still write most of my output for a publication that prints weekly, but also online. Online, it gets about 4x the pageviews that their free print subs get. Demographically, they make much more revenues online; their print costs, coupled to postage, is making mailing a weekly trade pub very expensive. And while I hold NYT content has high value, it doesn't necessarily translate into high cost. Salzburg, like Murdoch, are in for rude awakenings, IMHO.

2011-03-24 13:42:40

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

It's Sulzberger....

Well it may be a 1990s view, but so be it. Just because something's new doesn't mean it's improved. Neil Postman warned us about "amusing ourselves to death."

Murdoch can go away (please, go!) but if the NYT ever ceases to exist, I will content myself with the Broad Ripple Gazette, and I'm pretty sure by then I won't give a fig whether Oceania or Eurasia is winning the war.

2011-03-24 14:33:19

hendy [Member] said:

Oops. Fast fingers.

There's a damnable quality to the pace of change, once a communications medium connects us all. Laws can't keep up with it, using terminology and concepts that really didn't exist. Culture has changed at the same pace. I used to muse that "Internet time" could be measured in a way not unlike dog years, save it was one calendar quarter=one Internet Year. I've seen nothing that changes my mind on that.

But this is additionally attitudinal. If you want to see the future, and hope you did and are doing are bringing about a future that you would want, look to young people and what they do with technology. When I was a kid, I had a whole library across the street from where I lived. It was Nirvanah for a young kid. Now kids have Google, Wikipedia, and so on.

I didn't know it when I was a kid, but one of my grandfathers was a KKK member. It hurt my head so hard when I learned that in my 20s, that it took weeks to understand why, the times he lived in, and so on.

When I was in Toronto, I had an occasional prof by the name of Marsh McLuhan. He was truly insane, but he had the medium-is-the-message right. This ultra-fast interpersonal, inter-organizational communications medium has a direct effect on what's news, the nature of content value, and supply/demand in terms of entertainment value and what really effects us.

I love the NYT. I respect it, warts and all. I have friends there. One of my favorite columnists ever just left, but what remains are the crux of referential integrity and high journalism in a world filled with unavoidably increased noise. But it's not worth $800. They offer 20 articles/month for free. I'll use them up and grouse, and then look elsewhere. The entertainment pieces are easy to find. Their book reviews have gone downhill to the point of near absence. But their minds are very good.

I get news via an RSS feed. It captured a dozen things since I started writing this. Two pieces might be interesting, the rest noise. I've learned how to filter and others have, too. For relaxation, Facebook or 'net surfing. Then I'll read a paper, real paper book.

The NYT won't cease to exist at all. Instead, they'll change this paywall, and soon, because it will be a financial failure.

2011-03-24 16:16:23

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

You studied under Marshall McLuhan? Cerebral. And cool.

I sometimes follow events thru Google on Realtime. And I appreciate your RSS diligence. But it doesn't change the fact that the news organizations with boots on the ground have to be paid, or we don't get the news. A tweet doesn't have editors ... and all that other stuff.

Postman was all about the give and take of technology. Yes, we gain a lot. We get revolutions because people are connected and informed. We also get bullies and cowards who hide behind their online IDs and incite violence.

The Google/Kindle/burn-the-books generation won't know what it missed, because the library across the street is now a media center where kids go to play video games and be babysat. It's no longer the place of musty smells, reverence and magic. Like the library of my childhood, est. 1927 by the "Ladies" Fortnightly Club in Herndon, Virginia. Fairfax Co. took over the library in the late 1980s and "improved" it. Or at least that's what we tell ourselves.

2011-03-24 17:04:37

Seneca [Member] said:

Having a print subscription to the New York Times is like having a miniature (some days not so miniature) library delivered to your doorstep (or driveway) every day.

As for the "free" subscription to the web version, well, it isn't. If I could write off the cost, I would.

2011-03-24 17:16:44

hendy [Member] said:

Didn't study 'under' Marsh McLuhan. He occasionally showed up, sometimes sober.

WRT books, you must remember that it's the content that counts, and the form is merely convenience. It's time to retire Gutenberg, and get on with Berners-Lee.

2011-03-25 08:32:14

Rebecca [unverified] said:

This still won't make you happy but even a partial subscription will allow you to exceed the 20 article hurdle:

Q. Does a partial-week subscription qualify you for full free digital access? Even if it is just Sunday?

A. All New York Times home delivery subscribers will have free access to the Web site and the full content of The Times’s smartphone and tablet applications. This access is available regardless of the home delivery subscription (seven-day, Sunday only, etc.) For more information about our digital subscriptions, please see the Reader FAQ at

2011-03-25 10:01:06

hendy [Member] said:

That could make me happy. But it will all be free again, soon. Watch.

2011-03-25 11:12:26

Seneca [Member] said:

"All New York Times home delivery subscribers will have free access to the Web site . . ."

Which means "free of extra charge."

I eagerly and enthusiastically look forward to the delivery of each day's "library."

As for the Star's micromini compendium of generic verbiage printed to fill, well . . .

2011-03-25 16:57:34

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