I love newspapers and read lots of them. But I don’t love any one newspaper so much that I’d pay hundreds of dollars a year to read it online. The kind of package I could be persuaded to pay for would be a subscription to a bundle of my favourite newspapers and magazines. But newspapers that are erecting paywalls seem to be stuck in the print world where readers start their day with one or two papers. And maybe the print world isn’t such a bad place to be.
Some commentators argue that the purpose of a paywall isn’t to keep online readers out, it’s to keep print subscribers in. According to Mathew Ingram: "the main driving force for instituting a paywall is to keep print readers from migrating away from buying the physical product (which still generates the majority of advertising revenue at most newspapers) to reading for free online, where their eyeballs are worth less than they would be in print."
Last year at Recovering Journalist, Mark Potts explained how only 35 people signed up for Newsday’s $5 a week online subscription plan. According to Potts, Newsday was happy to lose readers who were outside its target audience — people who live on Long Island. Owned by cable tv company Cablevision, Newsday gave away online subscriptions to print subscribers and Cablevision customers but saw little value in attracting readers outside of Long Island. Potts says the strategy seems to be working just fine.
In 2009 the American Journalism Review carried an article by Paul Farhi arguing that newspapers might be better off focusing on their print audience instead of persuading readers to migrate to an online product.
… it is … significant and interesting that the pitch from publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger jnr is not about whizzbang new features or reader experience. The benefit he is offering is the continuation of the NYT as a news organisation. “It is an important step we hope you will see as an investment in the Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform.”
But do readers really love journalism that much? Do they buy the view that it is essential to the good life?
A number of newspapers already have paywalls. The Australian Financial Review’s content is so well defended that it’s hardly worth logging on even if you have a subscription. Almost all of the functions that online users take for granted are intentionally disabled at the AFR (eg cutting and pasting paragraphs into an email or blog).
The NYT follows a model pioneered by the Financial Times that limits non-subscribers to a small number of articles each month. Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com is convinced the NYT can make the model work. Felix Salmon at Reuters is also optimistic … ish. Michael De Gusta at the Understatement thinks the NYT is delusional.
The NYT will charge between $15 and $35 a month depending on how you want to access their content. Thirty five dollars gets you access through a smartphone app, a tablet app and via the web on your computer. However if you’re one of a select group of NYT readers you may be offered a free subscription courtesy of one of its advertisers, Lincoln.
Ever since the NYT’s announced its paywall, bloggers have been sharing tips on how to get around it. Here are a few:
- Techarraz shares a range of tips including setting your browser to private or incognito, changing your user agent to Googlebot and using RSS feeds.
- Brian Yang explains what user agent switching is and where to get a Firefox extension that makes it easy to do.
- At Euri.ca Blog David Hayes shares a bookmarklet called NYTClean. He writes: "clicking it on a blocked NYTimes article will show the content as usual."
- BreakthePaywall! is a free add-on for Internet Explorer 7 and 8 designed to make it easier to get around the kind of paywalls used by FT.com and the NYT. The Guardian’s Robert Andrews featured BreakthePaywall! on The Digital Content Blog last year.
- Timeswiretap provides links to NYT content via a twitter feed. The NYT isn’t blocking links from search engines and social media but has asked Twitter to shut down similar feeds.
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger doesn’t seem too worried about these workarounds . At a recent Media Council roundtable discussion he said: "It’ll be mostly high-school kids and people who are out of work" who use them.