A reader writes:
I happen to be in Canada at the moment, where the New York Times has already erected its paywall as a test-run prior to full roll-out. As an avid reader of the Times, I have absolutely no problem with paying for access, so when I got a friendly pop-up saying I had read my 20 free articles for the month, I clicked on the button to subscribe. That’s when the amateur hour began.
As an already registered user, I was prompted to enter my password, did so, and immediately was stuck in an unbreakable loop of repeated password requests. Giving up with the online subscription, I called their 800 number and was put on hold with a message that wait times were 2-4 minutes. Eleven minutes later my call was finally picked-up by a call center worker who only knew how to set up an online subscription for people with print subscriptions. After having her put me on hold twice, I finally gave up and disconnected, still without access to the Times and after about 18 minutes on an international call. This is absolutely ridiculous, and not how they should be treating customers who are happy to subscribe.
Will I eventually subscribe? Of course. But for the next few weeks I suspect I will be getting my news from the BBC, the Dish, etc.
I've been thinking long and hard about the NY Times paywall. I'm in my twenties and on Twitter, so I know how to get around the paywall, but ultimately do I want to? I read a lot of great blogs that keep me overly connected during the day, but the Times gives me something beyond yesterday's news: it essentially aggregates lots of stories and trends for me while guaranteeing a certain level of writing and incision. I know that that's kind of a reverse technological way of thinking of a newspaper, but it's true enough. I wouldn't read about classical music, or follow all the latest real estate news, or know as much about the Knicks if I didn't read the Times (I live in the people's republic of Cambridge!), and for me that's worth paying for. Yes, I could follow all of these things independently, learning the ins-and-outs of about 20 different blogospheres, but subscribing to the Times website is much easier.
Sure I'd prefer that the subscription were cheaper - how about a $10/month website only option? - but I think it's better for society if we start paying for the on-line content we value. I'd like to see writers paid living wages for their work and to see the number of media jobs expand over the next few years. Truthfully, I also like the feeling that I'm supporting an institution whose work I enjoy; it's why I'm a print subscriber to The Atlantic, and why I donated money to This American Life.
Do I need the paper NY Times? No. But I do support the newsgathering organization, and I'll pay for it.
Why don't newspapers actively court donations? I'd be happy to spend a non-trivial amount of money of my choosing in the hope of keeping the Guardian what it is. Maybe £50-£100 every year or so? Less than a subscription, freer than a paywall, more lucrative than ad-supported.
I think what a lot of people are missing in the NY Times paywall is that it should drive print subscriptions. The weekend delivery subscription is $3.80 per week, while the weekly digital subscription is $3.75 a week. Since the weekend subscription comes with seven-day-a-week digital access, you essentially get the Friday, Saturday and Sunday issues for a nickel. It's a no-brainer for anyone who wants to read the NY Times every day.
But the company gets far more than that from people like me. I only read the paper online, and haven't had a print subscription to the paper since 1995 or so. That means their only revenue from me was from online ads. But now they get the online ad revenue, a nickel extra from me every week, another subscriber to add to the print ad rates and the online fee.
I am simply assuming that the NY Times is relying on people like me being self interested enough to get a print subscription, and for those who don't want it they're leaving in workarounds like RSS feeds and blog links. I can't see how they lose.
Felix Salmon is right: "once you become habituated to avoiding the NYT, and learn to get your news elsewhere, you'll continue to do that no matter where the meter is set." The same $195 per year that the NY Times wants to charge for full access, from both my laptop and cell phone, buys me full access for a year to all of the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker, which is why I subscribe to the digital editions of both.
I once read the Times every day. Over the past two years, that Journal-New Yorker combination is probably the main reason why I practically stopped reading it at all, while it was available for free. There was more than enough breadth and depth in the alternatives to make them worth the price. That, plus all the free reading available elsewhere on the web, made the Times redundant. The only time I read it now is when someone like you links me there, and even when they start charging readers I can still catch up on Douhat without incurring a toll.
This post is embarrassing for the Columbia School of Journalism: its dean Bill Grueskin makes the bizarre claim that it is inappropriate to criticize the NYT at a time when its journalists are putting their lives at risk. He also mocks the résumé of writer Cory Doctorow, whose views he disagrees with.
This silliness obscures an insightful observation that he makes about the new NY Times paywall: that its value to the paper might be more in shoring up the base of print subscribers (3/4 of ad revenue) by providing them with a new benefit, free online access, than in extracting payments from online-only readers.