The NY Times Paywall: Worth the Wait

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/drb62/">DRB62</a> (<a href="http://creativecommons.org/about/what-is-cc">Creative Commons</a>)

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


This morning, Kevin commented on the announcement by the New York Times that it intends to build a paywall around its content… starting next year:

This is sort of odd. Why wait until 2011? The technology for tracking visits isn’t very hard to implement. And why announce this without answers to basic questions like “how many stories can I read for free?”

Reading between the lines of their carefully worded announcement, I think the answers to his questions are pretty clear. The Grey Lady has an out-sized presence in the American media market. Any move she makes is both influential—and unsettling.

The lead time allows the Times‘ other competitors here and abroad to carefully rethink their online media strategies. The current online model practiced by most major newspapers—put everything on the Web for free—is less of a strategy and more an accident of history. The Internet pounced on a profitable and antiquated industry and has been diverting content and revenues it ever since. On the bright side, this change has brought about the advent of blogging and an unparalleled era of free information. But as Times‘ media critic David Carr noted, “people who remain reflexively bullish on free ignore the fact that the clock is ticking on many of the legacy businesses that produce that content.” (For “legacy business,” see the Los Angeles Times.)

If other news sites don’t choose to fight over the NYTimes.com readers repelled by its paywall, a surprise beneficiary of their new strategy could be Steve Brill’s much-hyped Journalism Online venture. Carr dismissed working with third parties like Brill, Amazon, or Apple, saying, “the golden rule in digital matters is that the man in the middle makes the gold.” Still, smaller rivals like the LA Times or Chicago Sun-Times could find working with a middleman preferable to being out of work.

The early announcement also allows NYTimes.com visitors and operators time to measure each other up. Readers can begin thinking about how much they value the site’s exhaustive, multimedia coverage of Haiti, politics, style, business, and much else—or they can start looking for a free website to get their breaking news. And if they are only occasional visitors to NYTimes.com, the change is unlikely to adversely affect them. The metered system proposed by the New York Times Company will allow readers to see some articles for free each month.

In turn, NYTimes.com can test the water in the buildup to their metered wall. If readers begin preemptively avoiding the site, that’s valuable information—not cause to abandon the scheme. NY Times Co. can take that trend into account when they calibrate the free-stories-to-subscription-price ratio they need to bring in online subscribers without decimating traffic-driven online advertising revenues.

And, as Reuter’s Felix Salmon observed in his examination of the economics of the paywall, the metering system they plan to adopt is dynamic: “When advertising is strong, access can be ramped up, and when advertising is weak, it can be restricted, in an attempt to maximize subscription revenues.” But getting it about right from the get-go is important so the site doesn’t annoy too many visitors, who’ll become accustomed to having set number of freebies.

This is an important step forward for the Grey Lady. I only hope the rest of the news industry follows her lead.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate