The Impact of a New York Times Paywall

A report says it's in the works. Here's what it could mean for the Times, for blogging and for you.

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The New York Times may soon announce plans to charge readers for access to the Times website, reports New York Magazine. The news comes after years of debate, both within and without the Times newsroom, about whether the struggling company should charge for online content. From 2005 to 2007 the Times attempted a similar model, called TimesSelect, which charged for opinion columns and some other content. The New York Magazine reports that this new paywall may run on a metered system, letting users see a handful of articles for free.

The news is absolutely buzzing in the blogosphere, which relies heavily on the newspaper's original reporting and commentary.

  • How It Will Work The Guardian's Mercedes Bunz explains that a metered system would charge user by the number of articles they read. The danger is that some users, unwilling to pay, will go elsewhere and thus reduce the Times' ad revenues. "The advantage attributed to a metered model is that it would allow to extract money from heavy users while preserving its impressive reach," she writes. "The internal debate has gone on for months now, balancing the risk of losing traffic - and with it advertising - against the fear that advertising alone will never pay for a journalistic operation on the scale of the New York Times."
  • ...How It Should Work Reuters's Felix Salmon has a better idea, suggesting the Times model work like a taxicab. "[T]he key thing is that a meter measures how much of the service you've consumed, and then you pay for that much -- and no more." It should also work like iTunes. The Times would "simply measure how much you used the site last month, and then bill you; my guess is that Apple, when it releases its new tablet later this month, will also unveil a system which makes it very easy to link your account to your iTunes account so that your NYT bill will simply get added on to your iTunes bill along with your apps and TV shows and music and ringtones. The NYT itself won't even need to collect your credit-card information."
  • How It Will Change Blogging Mother Jones's Kevin Drum is worried. "An important part of the great Blogosphere Circle of Life(tm) is the ability for readers to click on links, both to get the full story for its own sake and to make sure bloggers are playing fair with their excerpts and commentary. If the Times cuts this off, it's a big hit." He asks, "will other newspapers follow their lead, thus bringing to an end the great era of endless free news on the internet? Or is the Times one of the few who can even arguably pull this off? Wait and see."
  • A Big Mistake Media critic Jeff Jarvis sighs, "I think the risks are great and grave. The Times could have fought to become the preeminent news brand on earth, fighting it out with the BBC for that title. Instead, I fear, it will duck into its shell as the Washington Post has." He explains, "If they charge me for using the paper more, I will use it less. I will find other very good substitutes for much of what I get from it -- indeed, this will push me to discover and curate new sources."
  • Why It Might Not Happen PaidContent's Staci Kramer notes that the New York Magazine story is rife with unconfirmed speculation, slim sources and hedging. "That's a lot of speculation, and indeed, NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller told MediaMemo the report was 'long on speculation,'" she writes. "One complicating factor as the decision stretched on: an uptick in advertising and traffic at that may have added some weight to the keep-it-open argument. One newsroom staffer admitted to some wishful thinking that the longer it's been put off, the greater the possibility it wouldn't happen."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.