The publisher of The New York Times, in a letter to readers, detailed the specifics of their latest paywall attempt Thursday.
The two main points:
1. Users can view up to 20 stories (including video, slideshows and other multimedia content) a month.
2. Stories you are linked to from blogs, social networking sites and the like will not count against the 20 story limit.
The Times is testing this approach on Canadian users now and it will expand to U.S. and the rest of global readers March 28.
“It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times,” wrote Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., “one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform.”
From a business standpoint he may be right. Newspapers’ current model isn’t working and they have to pay for all that great journalism.
Now for the BUT.
The Times attempted something similar to this and failed with TimesSelect, returning columnist content to free in 2007 after two years of behind a paywall.
This is what then-Times executive Vivian Schiller (we won’t get into what’s happened to her since) was quoted by Reuters as saying of the decision to end TimesSelect: “We now believe by opening up all our content and unleashing what will be millions and millions of new documents, combined with phenomenal growth, that that will create a revenue stream that will more than exceed the subscription revenue.”
So the logic then was to increase potential ad revenue by increasing the potential audience. Now it’s to do the opposite. It’s been pretty well established that putting up a paywall decreases views and thus decreases advertising revenue.
Then there is the other issue that so often gets overlooked: The NYTimes.com is hardly the only source for news. Many other sites, particularly those run by television networks have no incentive to charge for content. They never have. Savvy news consumers can simply go to cbsnews.com or ABCNews.com or a myriad of other sites to get essentially the same news.
Content is so widely available that, except for very specific stories, users don’t need The New York Times as much as The New York Times needs the audience for advertising. But legacy media, particularly media organizations with a proud history, have a hard time recognizing that.
That is a long way around to make my connection to television news and the challenge of paywalls.
For all of the other newspapers in cities across the country that have three, four or five television stations or more producing news and running their own websites, the news of the day is readily available for free. All a paywall will do is push people to other sources. No one likes to pay for something they can get for free someplace else.
Back to the Times, the decision to allow all users to read stories they are linked to makes their entire paywall moot, anyways.
If I really want to read a particular Times story and don’t want to pay, all I’d have to do is google the headline and find it linked from somewhere else and get it that way. That would just take a few seconds and not cost $15-$35 a month like the Times.