New York Times paywall: Savior of journalism or confusing debacle?
The New York Times begins forcing users who read more than 20 articles a month online to buy a subscription. It seeks to break new ground in the bid to make online content profitable.
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The most successful online pay models, such as ESPN and The Wall Street Journal, both have flat premium pricing for their content. Moreover, they both offer a specialized product that is in high demand, Mr. Ksiazek says via e-mail. The Journal is the must-read publication for high finance, and ESPN is the same for sports junkies.Skip to next paragraph
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While widely respected as a newspaper of record, the Times is still a general-interest newspaper, he points out. “Herein lies the biggest hurdle to the success of their pay model: Won't users just go elsewhere to get their news for free? Without offering a specialized product with a clear benefit to the consumer, it's likely that many users will seek out their news elsewhere,” Ksiazek says.
Paywalls may also hurt smaller newspapers, says Huntly Collins, an assistant professor of communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “My key worry is the impact of paywalls at metropolitan papers that don't have the national and international reach of papers like the Times, “ she says via e-mail. These papers “are in real jeopardy of losing their readership by charging for content."
Others suggest that the Times's pay model is an attempt to take various concerns into account. As a general news site, the Times needs to provide a variety of access points, says Yaron Galai, CEO of Outbrain, which helps online publishers and bloggers increase readership. He calls the smorgasbord approach “nuanced,” noting that the strategy provides a way for “New York Times junkies” to continue paying for the product while cultivating the idea for the next generation.
It’s a start, if somewhat muddled and half-hearted, says Lewis Goldberg, managing partner at KCSA Strategic Communications. Valued content should be paid for, he says and the Times has “tremendous value.” He raps the Times for the tiered pricing, saying, “Why should the digital version be less expensive than the print? The content is the same,” he says, but adds, “at least they are moving in the right direction.”
The price package needs to be simpler, agrees Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications In Washington. “Clearly they had too many people involved, and they tried to satisfy too many concerns,” he says. He suggests the Times would have been better served with a simple, clear rate, noting while this may be seen as an experiment, failure is not a good option.
“The Times is important to a free society," he says. "It is important to a marketplace of ideas that the New York Times share in that pantheon of great leadership."