By now you’ve probably heard about the byzantine pay wall being set up by the New York Times. It’s complicated, it’s expensive, and it proves one thing: for the New York Times, paper subscriptions are still what they care about, and digital is just a means to that end.
If you haven’t already heard about the NYT pay wall, here’s how it’s going to work:
1) Buy an online+smartphone app subscription for $15 every four weeks, or roughly $180 a year.
2) Buy an online+tablet app subscription for $20 every four weeks, or roughly $240 a year.
3) Buy a combo online/tablet/smartphone subscription for $35 every four weeks, or roughly $420 a year.
4) Buy any paper subscription (say, the Saturday/Sunday edition), pay $3.15 per week for two months and $6.30 after that, plus the full digital suite….making the average per-year price around $330 a year.
Setting aside how crazy expensive all those options are, it’s a better deal to get a paper subscription and the full digital suite than JUST the digital suite. Even crazier, the New York Times says you can get the same digital rights if you buy your subscription through a third-party offer. So basically the New York Times is making it as attractive as possible, short of wrapping the paper around an iPad, to get people to subscribe to the paper itself, not just the digital versions. Of course, the best part of this is that you can pair up with someone who reads the physical paper. My father and I both read the Wall Street Journal daily, and thanks to a sweet online deal, it only cost us $100 for the year, plus he gets the physical paper and I get the online one. The same thing should work fine with the New York Times, but again, why are they so excited to get you to buy the physical paper?
My suspicion is that a subscriber to the physical paper (or a combo subscriber) is more valuable to the New York Times than a digital one. A paper doesn’t have ad-blockers, for starters, so there’s a higher likelihood of an ad sticking with the reader. Beyond that, I wonder if there’s a general loyalty that builds when readers are receiving the physical paper as well as the digital one, and the New York Times is trying to build on that as well. Honestly, I’m grasping at straws slightly, but there’s something to this; as Gear Diary’s own Doug pointed out, it costs money to print and distribute the paper. So giving away this supposedly valuable digital service for free with even a low-end subscription clearly means there’s a deep value to having subscribers of the regular paper, and advertising seems like the most likely reason.
It really seems like the New York Times digital strategy is just built around building the brand and getting more paper subscribers. Look at their “loopholes”; you get 20 free online views a month, 5 free views from Google links, and unlimited views from social networks. Techcrunch thinks it’s a “changing of the guard”, but I think it’s more of the brand awareness aspect. The NYT wants to drive their brand, and this way they don’t promote an article only to get 15 @ replies complaining the readers have hit their online limits. The cynical side of me also thinks this is an empty gift; maybe it sounds great to offer unlimited reads through social sites, but it’s an easy slam dunk for the NYT because there’s a low click-through rate. Basically, they look like heroes of social networking, but they’re not really missing anything because what they are giving away isn’t something anyone is taking.
The real loser in all this is the casual reader. It’s website or bust, there’s no 20-article limit in the tablet and smartphone apps. It’s disappointing, and I think it’s going to spell certain disaster for the pure digital subscriptions. Look at the yearly costs! It’s way too expensive if you only read a handful of articles a month, and if you read more than that, find a buddy and get a physical/digital combo. If you read less than that…you’re probably going to move on and find another way to read the news.
So that’s my take on the New York Times pay wall. It’s complicated, slightly confusing, and heavily slanted towards rewarding physical paper subscribers…so as someone who mostly reads my news digitally, I probably won’t be signing up. What about you? Do you agree with my assertion that this proves paper still rules at the Grey Lady? Or do you have another take on this? Share your thoughts below!