Last week, I and pretty much every other media blogger on the earth wrote about the potential problems facing the New York Times’ plan to charge non-subscribers for using their site. Giving a bit of credit where it is due, the Times has evolved it’s metered paywall plan to not charge those coming into stories from blog referrals, emails and social media (which had been a big concern of mine).
While this change is great in that it recognizes the importance of the passer-by reader, it does present a challenge in the sense that most online readers fall into this category – so what kind of money can they get from charging for this content in the first place? As others have noted, it isn’t even as if they’re charging for content now, just for the ability to use their site navigation. In other words, they want to kill their section front traffic, but keep their story-by-story page views.
The Times’ Opinionator Blog even grudgingly admits this seems like a bit of a back-off. No surprise, of course, a NYT writer thinks the metered paywall is a good idea, but he realizes that online readers do not simply navigate to a newspaper site to peruse the news, they get their news from a combination of search, aggregators (including their own RSS readers) and recommendations from friends. If this trend continues and these sort of readers increase in number (which they will, as this is the preferred newsreading method of my generation and those younger), this porous paywall thingie doesn’t look much like a revenue model at all. It’s half-assed at best.
Which begs to mind the real question: Did the Times even really think this out? They made all kinds of big news when they first announced the metered paywall last week to all kinds of old-school-media backpats, but then they started immediately backpedaling.
It’s made me wonder if they really had a firm grasp of what they sought to accomplish – audience and revenue-wise, with this plan from the get-go. I have to wonder, how much more will it change before it is implemented? And why did they announce this plan when they don’t seem to be very cognizant of what it will be or what they want out of it?
Jay Rosen hosts something of a debate about all of this on his blog. I suggest a read through the comments for a good look at what the reaction’s been to all of this re-jiggering.