Now that The New York Times has finally announced its paywall, the wave of comments online is growing and growing.
Enthusiastic and negative, yea-and-nay: here is a review of some of the first comments, thoughts and reactions.
A first impression of what the NYT paywall looks like to Canadians is already available here.
Cost: not so cheap
"The NYT has decided not to make the paywall very cheap and porous in the first instance as people get used to it. $15 for four weeks might be cheap compared to the cost of a print subscription, but $195 per year is still enough money to give readers pause and to drive them elsewhere", commented Felix Salmon on his Reuters blog.
Allowing access to the side door
One of the most highly anticipated decisions was that regarding access via search, links and social media. During the two years of TimesSelect (2005 - 2007) search was blocked, meaning that when readers came across a NYT article via search or links they bumped into the wall.
Now, however, occasional users can indeed go in through the search 'side door.'
"I'm not sure that the Times specified then or after what percentage of traffic comes through search, links and assorted other side doors, now including social media. For the industry, the side door share is well over 50 percent. The Times calculated that it was leaving substantial online ad revenue on the table by blocking all those visits and so shifted back to being free", commented Poynter's Rick Edmonds.
He also noted that it appears the Times will allow the same end-around that lets non-paying readers see Wall Street Journal articles for free: copy the headline and paste it in a Google search box, but at the same time, entrance from search will be limited to an unspecified number of articles per day. "In short, you will not be able to read the online version of the paper for free indefinitely, pasting headline after headline into a search field".
"Stop calling it a wall"
"Please stop calling it a wall. It's not a wall. It's a smart, flexible strategy that will produce a perfect blend of reader and advertising revenue. Walls turn people away and force a publisher to choose between advertising revenue and circulation revenue. This does neither", said Steven Brill, long-time journalism entrepreneur and cofounder, Journalism Online, quoted by Nieman Lab.
Brill said he thinks it make a lot of sense, as it is a well-though-out plan.
Jason Fry, Reinventing the Newsroom, quoted too by Nieman Lab agrees paywall is an unfortunate vocabulary as it's a self-defeating word for what organizations are trying to do. There is quite a lot for free, he commented. "What the "metered model" (a terrible term in its own right) really does is define who a publication's most-loyal readers are and try to convert them to paid supporters."
A question of timing
As Ken Doctor on Newsonomics noted "timing may not be everything, but it's a lot in life, and the New York Times could have not have picked a better time -- soon - to launch both its new paid plans and new tablet product."
iPad2 devices are already backordered everywhere - he wrote - one million sold so far and hungry customers want something to test and read, and their wallets are open.
Print subscribers will be encouraged to continue their subscriptions as they will have full free digital access. A special Sunday-only subscription allows all-digital access plus the Sunday paper as a freebie.
Surprisingly, smart phones and digital tablets have been split between two different packages. Damon Kiesow reported on Poynter he asked the reason to split to the Times and spokesperson Kristin Mason answered by e-mail that the structure was based on reader studies. "We found that readers placed different values on the various reading experiences -- smart phone, tablet and access across digital platforms -- and we are pricing our packages accordingly", Kiesow reported she said.
This plan of "having a different cost scale based on device strikes me," Jason Fry said, "as a short-term approach that flies in the face of where our changing digital habits will lead us -- the idea that people will pay extra for different experiences as delivered by different devices is worth exploring, but asking them to pay extra for the same information displayed in a different form factor won't work in the long run."
"Why should I subscribe?"
Perplexity comes from Steve Buttry, director of community engagement of TBD, quoted by Niemab Lab. "Why should I subscribe while I know hot to use Twitter and Google?" he wondered, adding he thinks the Times approach is ridiculous on multiple levels. He cited the previous experience of TimesSelect saying that it didn't fail because they didn't have the details right but because paywalls generally are stupid. "This punishes their most loyal readers for their loyalty: If you really like us and keep on coming back, we'll make you pay. The hit-and-run Times readers can read for free without ever being bothered "This punishes their most loyal readers for their loyalty: If you really like us and keep on coming back, we'll make you pay. The hit-and-run Times readers can read for free without ever being bothered" he commented.
Finding a balance
The NYT has to try to a find a balance in maintaining most of the side door traffic while asking the heaviest users to pay, as well it having to try to protect print circulation revenue, while increasing digital revenue but without losing advertising. The risk is losing more on potential advertising than it makes in revenue from the new digital subscriptions. On the other hand, digital subscribers become a sort of premium class for advertisers, noted Rick Edmonds.
You can find more from Ken Doctor's Newsonomics reflections on good timing here.
For more comments by media thinkers, Nieman Lab has collected opinions from Steven Brill, Steve Buttry, David Cohn, Anil Dash, Jason Fry, Dan Kennedy, Martin Langeveld, Megan McCarthy, Geneva Overholser, Johathan Stray and Amy Webb here.
More from Niemab Lab could be find here.