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The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

The New York Times and its “pay fence:” love it or not, it’s still revolutionary

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The big event finally happened Monday, one that’s been more than a year in the making.

The New York Times finally throw up its “paywall,” or as some have called it, a “pay fence.”

The basics: Readers can visit and click on 20 articles, blogs, videos or slideshows for free a month. After that, a box comes up over an article, asking you to pay for additional views. A “basic” digital subscription costs $15, the “intermediate” plan costs $25 and the “advanced,” which comes with the Times’ iPad app, costs $35. Print subscribers, no matter which subscription, will receive an all-access pass to the site and apps for free. Right now, the Times is offering a four-week introductory rate of 99 cents, presumably to hook people.

The kicker, though, is the “porous” aspect of the wall. Articles that a reader accesses from a third-party site, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Google, can be accessed for free, even if you’ve exhausted your 20 articles that month (Google clicks can only number five per day, however). This aspect is one that has captivated the media world, seeing how no other publication had offered that type of access.

The move has to be a way to ramp up print subscriptions, since it’s cheaper to receive at least one paper a week than just digital access. Getting the cheapest print option, the Sunday only edition, will allow you all the access you want online, and will only cost $390. A full digital access-only subscription will cost $455, a significant increase. The move is clearly subtle way of making their print product viable, and getting their Sunday advertisers’ ads in the hands of the American public (Although one Canadian blogger, who saw the paywall two weeks before us Yankees, believes the new system could be trying to change the way news is published).

But is this an ideal solution? Rather, should the Times continue to try and sustain their print product, when the industry seems to point toward digital and mobile content? The Times is no doubt the leader in the news industry; when it changes a business practice, everyone watches and takes notes. Perhaps the Times should have looked closer at truly migrating away from dependence on a set of paper and focused more on improving the revenue stream online.

Regardless, the wall is still up. And people are still trying to figure out ways to crack it, my favorite being this Twitter account. It has created a list that feeds Times articles to followers, effectively allowing everyone that follows them to read articles for free. Of course the Times tried to shut this down, but not because it was tweeting articles left and right, but because it was using the stylized “T” in its logo.

You could also try the other approach, deleting key portions of the code in the URL. Because the Times tracks how you visit its site through cookies, all one has to do is click “Inspect Element” and do some code work (something I’m not very good at, although hope to be someday). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Times changes the overlay box to what the Wall Street Journal does, and completely block a non-subscriber from seeing a story instead of an overlay box.

I’m still weary of subscribing to news content when I know I can get a good chunk of it for free elsewhere, namely here. But I still continue to read stories on the Times’ site, and haven’t been confronted with the dreaded box yet. I might even subscribe to the Times for those first four weeks. After that, we’ll see.

(A quick shout-out to the website-saving site Evernote, which really helped me gather up links for this. A great service, definitely worth checking out.)


Written by David Veselenak

March 29, 2011 at 10:08 pm

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