On Thursday morning, The New York Times announced the details of a much-debated paywall for its industry-leading website. Beginning today in Canada, and on March 28 around the world, users can read up to 20 articles a month for free on the Times' site; to read more stories that month, they must pay a flat fee of $15 for unlimited access on their computers and smartphones (free, limited access "resets" at the beginning of each month). As this labyrinthine FAQ makes clear, there are some exceptions: Print subscribers do not have to pay an additional fee to access the website, and links that readers follow through Twitter and other social-media sites will not count toward the limit. Still, the policy presents a stark choice for many readers: Will they pay for news online?
The paywall is doomed to fail: "This won't work," says Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. First of all, with the paywall's confusing social-media policy, "no one will be able to figure out" what counts toward the monthly limit. The paywall will also reduce the Times' influence online, since news outlets and individuals will not want to link to a website that blocks non-paying readers. Beyond that, the new restrictions don't give the right impression to the site's casual users. A policy that makes them out to be freeloaders is "no way to convert a reader to a customer."
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And it's way too expensive: There are "so many flaws" in the Times' paywall plan, says industry analyst Steve Outing at his website. Chief among them is that "the pricing is absurdly high." Yes, the Times produces "the best journalism in the world," and doing so isn't cheap. But with "so many other quality news websites a click away," it's doubtful that many readers will want to pay $15 a month. The Times should have taken a lesson from Apple and enticed people to pay by charging a small amount — say, 99 cents — for a minimum amount of access.
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Actually, this is a smart move: "The fact is the paper needs the money," says Hamilton Nolan at Gawker. "Charging for online access is the way of the future," a path that the newspaper should have pursued years ago. Readers will eventually "get used to it," and if they value the Times' quality, they'll pay up. "If you're going to pay to read journalism on the internet, you might as well pay for good journalism."
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