The New York Times Idiotwall

It took the New York Times almost two years and close to $40 million dollars to come up with its paywall scheme and the results neither reflect this huge investment in manpower nor money. It’s a mess that was designed by committee. I actually believe that most people would be more than willing to pay a reasonable amount for access to the NYTimes’ generally excellent reporting. The problem is, it almost feels as if the paywall was designed to scare away just those readers who would be willing to pay.

These are at least two major issues with the current system: [list type=”arrow”]

  • The current pricing scheme is utter nonsense. $15 per four weeks (not per month, mind you) for access to the website and smartphone app; $20 for the website and tablet app (but not smartphone); a whopping $35 for unlimited access on any device. Chances are, the majority of today’s readers aren’t willing to pay $15, let alone $35. Also, as long as it’s cheaper to get a Sunday-only print subscription (which includes unlimited access on all devices) than a digital-only subscription, you know that the NYTimes is still beholden to its legacy print ways and looking backwards instead of forwards to the inevitable day when the last print edition rolls off the presses.
    The New York Times building in New York, NY ac...
    Image via Wikipedia

    If the NYTimes charged $5 or $10 per month without the device restrictions currently in place (they could learn from Hulu and Netflix here), the number of additional subscribers would easily make up for the smaller revenue generated per reader (just look at the iOS App Store for how this works in practice).

    In the days of Times Select, the NYTimes’ first paywall project that only blocked access to opinion pieces, bloggers would simply republish the articles on their sites. Unsurprisingly, some enterprising hackers have already found ways to route around this new system (three lines of JavaScript is all it takes, by the way). As John Gruber notes, if you want people to pay, keep your pricing simple. For $5 per month, nobody would bother routing around the NYTimes paywall, but given how confusing it is, it will likely be easier to route around it than to pay.

  • The system for giving limited free access to all readers is highly confusing. Most NYT readers will never quite understand when and why they are running out of their monthly 20 article allotment. Links for Twitter, blogs and search engines are free – but for some reason still count towards the monthly allotment anyway. So you could run out of your 20 free articles long before you even navigated to the NYTimes homepage. Of course, you can still read more articles through blog and social media links, but you won’t be able to really use the NYTimes homepage anymore.What about those times when you click on a link and don’t even know where it’s taking you? Bad luck. You just used another of your 20 monthly articles.

    It’s also worth noting that in this system, the long, expensive and exclusive Sunday magazine article is worth just as much as the news piece that you could find in virtually the same form on a dozen other sites.

    The idea behind this porous paywall is to ensure that “drive-by” visitors, which supposedly make up 80% of the site’s traffic, won’t have to pay and will continue to drive ad impressions on the site. As word spreads that the NYTimes is now a site you have to pay for, though, fewer and fewer people will click on links as they won’t understand how the paywall works in the first place. [/list]

Overall then, this is, as Danny Sullivan so eloquently points out, not a pawyall but “an idiotwall. Designed by idiots to get money from idiots, the idioci.

That’s quite a shame, because there is no reason to believe that a simplified pricing scheme with cheaper prices and without device restrictions couldn’t work.

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