NYTimes.com Paywall Will Have Some Leaks. Good!

The New York Times will start charging for news in 2011 by capping the number of free articles readers can access. But there could be a loophole. Nicholas Carr passes this along:

Essentially, it appears that if you come to a Times article via a link, either on the Web or in an email, you will get to read the whole article, and the article won't count against your monthly limit of articles.

Leaks? Hardly. For shrewd readers, this is more like building a wall, and then carving out a door that says PUSH HERE.

If Carr is right about this plan, then the same way savvy readers get around the Wall Street Journal paywall by pasting the WSJ headline in a search box and pressing ENTER, prolific readers will get around the NYT paywall by going in horizontally -- through blogs, emails and other links.

As Felix Salmon notes, the Times is "not actually charging for NYT content; they're charging for NYT navigation." Felix thinks this is a weird idea, but I agree with Carr that's it's a savvy policy. News junkies who might have left the Times forever if the paywall capped their reading now can find a way to sneak into the site and read it just as frequently. So who will pay for the NYT online? Older, less Web-savvy readers -- exactly the people who are more likely to pay for the news anyway. These readers will want to pay for navigation, because they rely on NYTimes.com exclusively for their news.

This plan could fail. But if it does, it won't be because the NYT's plan is hopelessly flawed. It will be because the NYT misread the marketplace. It will be because online readers of general interest news are not ready to pay a penny for what they consume. If this is true, then it's not just the Times' problem. It means we're all in trouble.