Opinion Blog: New York Times Paywall-innovation or blunder?

April 20, 2011  

Posted by Erin Goldsmith

It’s official: The New York Times online content is now blocked by a paywall.

According to MSNBC, the paper is charging $15 every four weeks, or $195 a year, to read more than 20 articles a month on its site. Apple users, including iPhone and iPad junkies, can access the third-largest U.S. newspaper for only $20 every four weeks, or $260 annually. A digital subscription covering the website and both mobile options costs $35 every four weeks, or $455 annually.

Despite these daunting numbers, the math makes sense. When you break it down, a digital subscription costs roughly $1.25 a day. When compared to the nearly $2 the paper costs at Starbucks you actually save money.

The idea may be intuitive but the Times’ follow-through is lacking. The numerous subscription plans can be confusing to the consumer.

Say you are a multi-platform user—Smart phone in hand, iPad tucked under your arm, and laptop bound in your briefcase, you are the quintessential 21st Century media user. Sadly, this type of user, which is rapidly becoming the norm, is overlooked by The New York Times’ subscription plans.

If you want to read the paper on both your Smartphone and iPad, you’ll have to buy two separate subscriptions. Don’t worry though, The New York Times will gladly charge you $35 every four weeks for your double subscriptions.

As if the subscription costs aren’t confusing enough, it get’s worse. Readers coming from a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, get five free articles per search service per day. There are no limits on the amount of traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter, however. Basically, you can access the NYT as much as you’d like if you access the site from Facebook and Twitter.

Considering this, why charge in the first place?

In the weeks after adding a paywall the site has been the brunt jokes and scrutiny. The Huffington Post went so far to announce a payment plan just for New York Times’ employees who wished to gain access to the site. The announcement, which was later confirmed as an April Fool’s joke, poked fun at The Times for its crazy payment plan.

Payment plans are understandable. In today’s news market, everything seems to be going digital. Why not capitalize on this? The Times is only receiving scrutiny because it is on the forefront of this idea.

Will The New York Times paywall be a success? Will people pay for the site’s content or will readers go to free sites like The Huffington Post instead? With so many different options, including free access through social media sites, it doesn’t seem like a subscription is necessary.

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