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The New York Times responds to abusers of its paywall loopholes

The New York Times responds to abusers of its paywall loopholes

The New York Times paywall has recently gone live in Canada and will go live in the United States next week, and users have already begun trying to find ways to avoid coughing up the cash. Their success has been swift; they've already found two different ways to make the paywall come crumbling down. Nieman Journalism Lab reported that four lines of Javascript can destroy the entire wall. Mashable also reported about a special Twitter account that links directly to articles, also bypassing the paywall.

Considering the $40-$50 million the Times invested into its paywall project, according to Bloomberg, the ease at which some users have been able to get around it could be considered alarming. The organization has already begun taking action to prevent some of the leaks.

In attempt to keep advertising revenue up, the Times allows clicks on links from social media giants like Twitter and Facebook free. Readers can click as many as they want, and none of the clicks will count towards their 20 free articles a month. According to Adweek, 83 percent of traffic to the paper's site in February was referral traffic.

When asked about the loophole and people taking advantage of it, the Times's vice president of corporate communications Eileen Murphy said to the Canadian Press, "If it was something blatant ... that is likely something that we would make an effort to go after. If there was some real attempt to game the system in some way that was not appropriate it's something we would certainly look at."

Unsurprisingly, the Times has already been forced to take this action. A Twitter feed was created (@FreeNYTimes) that linked to every single article. The paper sent a request to Twitter to shut down the site, citing a trademark violation as its issue.

The Times was originally going to allow for hits from search engines to be free, but BigPond News has reported a change in that decision. Websurfers going through major surf engines will be limited to 5 free articles a day. Though the restriction was initially just for Google, it has been extended to include Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing. The Times has not released a comment on why it made this change.

Of course, social media and search engines aren't the paywall's only loophole. After the 20 free article limit has been reached, entire articles still load on the page. They are merely covered by an overlay that is CSS and Javascript, explained TheJournal. This overlay can be taken away by 4 lines of Javascript. As Nieman Journalism Lab's Joshua Benton pointed out, the people who do know how to use this code are typically people who are unlikely to pay and who are also likely to share the articles- thereby bringing more exposure to the Times' site.

Martin Nisenholtz, the Times' senior vice president for digital operations, doesn't think the Javascript crowd will pose too much of a threat. He said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, "I don't think we're going to spend enormous resources to go tracking people down. But at the same time, we're going to obviously work to see where the source of these workarounds are, and work to close them off, if they become substantive enough. But in looking at the research that we did, we expect [paywall jumpers] to be a very significant minority, a small, small number of people."

Sources: Adweek, BigPond News, Bloomberg, The Canadian Press, Forbes, TheJournal, Mashable, Nieman Journalism Lab (photo source), The Wall Street Journal



Meghan Hartsell


2011-03-23 12:48

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