Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The New York Times Paywall Conundrum

Paywalls are often cited by newspaper management teams as the mechanism to save their sinking industry. The New York Times recently announced a paywall of their own as a way to capitalize on the significant online readership of the Grey Lady. Well they have certainly garnered lots of attention for the move, but much has been about their ineptitude in execution. 

What exactly has gone wrong for the New York Times? It seems there are issues with the overall strategy, the technology implementation, the gaping holes in the wall, the pricing and the incredible complexity of their solution. The issues surrounding this have been well documented in many quarters:
  • The Huffington Post examines the situation and identifies why the New York Times did not opt for a total paywall, which has largely proven to be a failure where it has been implemented.
  • Barry Leiba over at Staring At Empty Pages refers to the implementation as a complicated mess and states that The Times will no longer be his go-to destination for news.
  • Destined to backfire is Gigaom's assessment citing what they believe will be changes in reader behavior to cope with the paywall.
  • But the stakes are small according to Gawker's article which postulates that only a small segment of the current readership will even bump up against the paywall limits that still permit limited unfettered access as well as reading articles clicked through some referring links.
  • Felix Salmon writing on Wired says the paywall is "weird." He looks at the perverse pricing schemes that result in a situation where it "creates the slightly odd proposition that if you want to use the NYT’s iPad app, you’re marginally better off subscribing to the print newspaper on Sundays and throwing it away unread than you are just subscribing to the app on its own."
  • An article over at BoingBoing also cites the inscrutable pricing and a host of other issues and comes to the conclusion that the paywall is either "wishful thinking or just crazy."
  • Digital Tonto has some astute observations that are definitely worth reading about the paywall including its unintended effect of devaluing quality journalism.
  • With all the loopholes available to those who wish to continue consuming the Times without feeding the paywall it's not surprising that a byzantine set of rules of engagement has emerged. Search Engine Land does a good job explaining how this works. In addition, some folks have approached this as a game and attempted to use Twitter as a publicly available loophole to the paywall.  Not surprisingly, the Times has asked for this door to be closed
Many are looking to exploit the loopholes
 in the New York Times paywall


  1. Great overview! Thanks for this, Steve.

    - Greg

  2. Thanks Greg! Your blog, should be read by anyone with an interest in this subject