March 17, 2011

Brief Thoughts on "New York Times" Charging (and a Prediction)

Greetings. A bunch of people have already written to me, asking if I feel that the new New York Times charging regime is "good" or "bad."

I refuse to treat this as a binary issue. I very much like the NYTimes, and I don't want to see them fade in the manner of, say, my hometown L.A. Times.

However, the dynamics of paywalls in this space are exceedingly complex and rife with unknowns.

The complexity of the NYT paywall system, with various items being free (or not) depending on how you happened to access them, is likely to be very confusing to many Internet users. When faced with a paywall block, many will simply go to Google and try find some other related story from a (possibly lower quality) free source.

It's obvious that the Times is trying to thread the needle carefully, but I don't know if that will be good enough.

For example, my reading of their FAQ says that most stories linked from external (at least non-search-engine) sites will be readable without limitations. This of course avoids the nightmare of breaking millions of existing links to Times stories from sites all over the Web.

But I predict that browser add-ons that attempt to automate the process of creating free "link-based" bypass access to arbitrary Times stories may appear in very short order, as well as other paywall bypass techniques. How many people would bother to use them, vs. either subscribing or not reading various stories at all? Who knows?

Separately, I find the premium being charged for iPad app access to be problematic (even though I don't have an iPad). The "five free stories/day" limit on Google references also seems questionably arbitrary.

Overall, we'll just have to wait and see.


Update (March 17, 2011 2:22 PM): The impact of background "browser page prefetch" activities on users' "free pages" allocations may be another complicating issue to be considered. This is potentially important, since it appears that "link-based" articles will be visible even if non-subscribers' monthly quotas of free views are exceeded, but those "views" still count against your quota of "non-link" articles. This seems to imply that (usually invisible to the user) automatic browser prefretch activity could eat up some or all of the regular quota (currently 20 items), with the user perhaps never having actually viewed any of the associated pages. I hope for additional clarification on this point.

Posted by Lauren at March 17, 2011 11:29 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein