Info Gluttony

All the News That’s Fit to Tweet

Posted in media by echan on March 17, 2011

Even though we’ve known for more than a year that the day was coming, The New York Times took down the Christo drape covering their renovated paywall today.  Essentially the new paywall relies on a freemium model of 20 free articles a month, followed by a $15/month fee for a digital web/iPhone subscription, $20/month fee for an iPad subscription, or $35/month for an all access pass. Articles accessed via Twitter links fall into the free-part of the freemium section, and are not counted towards one’s 20 article per month limit.

Now, I have a couple reservations against this freemium model, and I’ll start with what irks me the most, the base prices of the Times subscription plans.  The cheapest plan is priced much higher than competing forms of media. $15 doesn’t look cheap compared to Hulu Plus at $7.99/month (and this is for streaming video) or Netflix’s streaming plus one disc ($9.99/month) or streaming plus two discs ($14.99/month) programs.  This is $15 for access to just one newspaper, in a world where we are trained to graze from the buffet tables of many different newspapers, news sites, and blogs, and whatever new media invention is thrown into our browser or phones.*

A $15/month price point begins to approach the price of a utility (i.e. one roommate’s share of the electricity in an apartment or the data service for a 3G-enabled tablet), rather than the price for one information source.  Even if the Times can communicate to its readers that it’s expensive to send reporters to Karachi or to operate foreign (and beefed-up domestic) bureaus, $15/month pricing smells like subscribers are subsidizing the Times Renzo Piano-designed headquarters. If the Times put out a digital subscription at a lower price point that takes into account that I get my news from other places too (perhaps $5/month?), I would be happy to pay, but I could continue on all day about why $15/month seems to high.

The second thing about the plan that irks me is that, as I predict, the Times model will change the way that I consume news from the Times.  Rather than actively discovering and spreading Times content, I’ll have a take a much more passive role, as a conduit at most, between one reader and others, most of the time. While Twitter workarounds have already popped up to offer a firehouse of links for all Times articles (“Hi, @freeNYT!” via Alexis Madrigal’s post), I’ll be looking for a curator that I trust to select out the Top 5 Times articles of the week, much like Longreads picks out 5 longform articles each week. (Another way of filtering down the @FreeNYT entire corpus firehouse is to select sections or reporters from the Times‘ own Twitter directory). While curation may be a good solution for some, it puts up another mediator between the Times readership and the news it publishes.

So all-in-all, complaining about the Times paywall may be a retrograde activity that is so 2006, but the return of outmoded practices calls for these renewed complaints.

*The higher priced plans boggle my mind even more. The iPad plan is $240/year. Is reading the paper on an iPad versus a browser worth $60 more per year? And the all-access pass is even more insulting at $420/year.  Should someone have to pay well over double the price to read the Times on one’s phone and one’s tablet? Why should you have to pay for both, when you’re one consumer with only a fixed amount of time each day to read the news?

And don’t forget the perverse incentive of including digital access with the cheaper print subscription, thereby making the physical product cost less than easier to produce and deliver digital product.


2 Responses

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  1. Greg said, on March 18, 2011 at 12:26 am

    $15 a month still seems rather inexpensive to me, at least when compared to the $64 a month it costs for a subscription to the print edition of the New York Times. Further, I don’t know if it is fair to compare a subscription to the New York Times to services like Hulu or Netflix. The Times is arguably the most trusted and well-written newspaper on earth, and certainly the best in the U.S.

    In the web era, people are coming to expect everything for free, and that is causing a significant decrease in the quality of that which we receive. As you point out above, there are significant costs that must be paid in order to cover news in an effective way. A newspaper needs to have reporters stationed around the world, and an infrastructure in place to facilitate reporting. That isn’t cheap. And while it is interesting to get on-the-street citizen reports of breaking stories via Twitter or Facebook, nothing can replace trained reporters and skilled editors in terms of presenting a complete and (relatively) unbiased news story.

    Alternately– as you stated, web-savvy folks will find aggregators that recreate the Times RSS feed via Twitter links. Perhaps the new price plan is simply a way for the Times to charge those who are less technically inclined, or well-off enough to not want to bother with the extra effort that will be involved in finding such pages. The rest of us cheapskates/poor folks will still be able to read the entire online New York Times for free.

  2. echan said, on March 19, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I agree that the Times is a quality product, but I don’t think that the digital price is worth $180/year. The closest publication in price that I have paid for is the Economist, and that was for a print subscription.

    And methinks that you put way too much trust in the Grey Lady. It’s had some missteps in the past decade, from the Jayson Blair made-up-news scandal to the more recent flap over the Houston Bureau chief’s victim-blaming article:

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