Yesterday, the NY Times sent this message by email to all registered users. An excerpt:
This week marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.
Here’s their FAQ list and the prices. As you can see, the minimum charge is $15 per month, which comes to $180 per year. That’s a lot, especially compared with
free. Part of the charge is for use of smartphone or tablet apps, and they do not offer a subscription that’s web only.
Cory, at BoingBoing, doesn’t think it will work, and I agree with him. There’s bound to be confusion about how much you can see. For instance, while, according to the FAQ, you’ll always be able to read things that someone posts to a blog or that you get from a Google search, they will count against your 20 free articles a month. So if you’re not a subscriber, you can read 20 articles from the Times site, and then read 20 (or 40, or 80) more posted on someone’s blog... if you do it in that order. But if you read the articles from the 20 blog posts first and then want to snag an article directly off the Times site, you’ll have to pay. You gonna keep track of that?
Well, they say they’ll keep track of it for you, but, really, it seems a complicated mess.
Apart from that, I wonder about the links I’ve already posted. I presume that blog links will be identified in a way that the site can recognize, tagged with a token of some sort. It seems unlikely that using the referrer field that the browser sends would be reliable enough for them. But all those old Times links I’ve been posting for the last five years lack any sort of tag, so will those suddenly be blocked by the paywall? Probably, and that will be very irritating.
I also take exception to their characterization of the change as affecting primarily
heavy consumers of the content on our Web site. 20 articles a month is nothing, and I would not call someone who reads one article a day a
heavy consumer, in any sense. No, this will have a profound effect on the habits of a great many casual Times users, who check out a couple of items a day or so. If I want just 5 articles a month beyond the 20 free ones, I’ll have to pay $15 each month for that.
I likely won’t. I almost assuredly won’t.
So the result will be that the Times will no longer be my
go-to news source for background on what I say in these pages. I’ll look to other sources instead. And I’ll do that with sadness and regret, because I think the New York Times is the best source around... and that’s the best reason I can think of for them to look for ways to fund their content other than by charging for it, article by article. They’re a business, yes, but they’re also a public service, and an important one.
Or perhaps it’s that they’re not a public service any longer. Sigh.