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Thursday, 31 March 2011


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The Times is making ad revenue off every link you send to it, to the tune of $400+ million a year. A lot more than it will make in new subscribers after the paywall. Who will pay those prices that doesn't already subscribe to the print version? There are plenty of other good sources out there for news and information–the paywall structure and price clearly voice the paper's hubris. The structure is confusing and the exceptions byzantine. And the 'pay every 4-weeks' as opposed to monthly just feels like nickel-and-diming.

I have no problem with a paywall that is reasonable, and would likely pay up to $10/month for access to the Times. I think that at $10/month the Times would have had 10-20 times more subscribers.

And by the way, I do sit down with a cup of tea, my laptop, and the Times website. The sad layout doesn't make it easy to browse or jump from one interesting article to another, and I think that is one of the Times' great failings. The paywall (mostly in its implementation) seems to signal that they are not an organization that understands how its newer readers function, one that is not limber or open enough to survive the current transition. The Times will not be the last man standing, that's for sure, and I'll be surprised if they survive into your last 30% by anything more than sheer momentum. Pleas and appeals to the necessity of journalism will not be enough to guilt people into overpaying for content that can be easily had elsewhere. Time marches on, while nostalgia has a dozen photographers taking its picture.

I think the price being asked by the NYT is a bit on the high side when you include the additional fees for mobile edition and ipad edition. This can run over$400 a year if you want to have it available on both your iphone and ipad. Yikes. Call it sticker shock. I was a subscriber under their old pay for service plan but don't recall it being nearly as expensive.

Fortunately I was offered a free subscription through 2011 via a pop-up on the NYT site (I am a regular visitor). I will sign up for one of their plans at the end of my free period because I think its important to support reputable new organizations.

What continually amazes me is the fact that apparently educated and smart people, are able to turn a blind eye to the changes around them.

Many, if not most, of small media outlets (read, independant) have been reduced to having next to no budget for original content. Just pick up any small-town paper and read the bylines and see how many are attributed to non-staff. It seems to me, that it is the result of chasing short-term profits vs investing in long-term longevity. It appears to be the same scenario as the down-sizing of staff in the '80s and '90s, leading to eventually having under-qualified/trained people doing important jobs without having the experience to decide what was important.

I think that print media should look at a model that uses advertising as the revenue source needed to do it's job, and using subscription/per copy pricing to cover the cost of distribution. I realize the financial picture is more complicated than that, but it seems that in order to have value, you need original content. The Huffington Post realizes that, even if they don't pay their bloggers for content.

The unfortunate side effect of requiring a subscription for full, unlimited access, is that I will end up visiting the site less often and reading fewer of the articles. I generally buy the Sunday Times, but I don't subscribe because I know that there are many weekends that I am traveling or otherwise won't read the paper and it would be a waste to subscribe. The same is true of the online Times. Currently I visit daily and read one or two articles then move on. With the new subscription scheme I will either read fewer articles and ultimately visit the website less often or I will have to pay between $15 - $35 every 4 weeks. Unfortunately, knowing myself as I do, I am sure this will result in me turning elsewhere for my news.

Hi Mike, while I find your concerns entirely understandable I don't actually think things are all that bad. In fact I think the future is potentially much brighter than the past, rose tinted spectacles aside.

Indeed news organisations are switching to a new delivery model. Free-sample internet sites and full subscription (e-readers and tablet editions). This actually cuts their production and distribution costs considerably and should enable them to delivery more varied and tailored content to a wider audience.

In terms of quality, I am not sure that history would bear out the assumption that newspapers used to be more honest or less slanted. Indeed one may argue that the readership in those days were actually just less informed. Standards of English may have been better, but political slants and self-interest (usually those of the owners) were rife. True, in recent years, cost cutting led a lot of papers to stop reporting "news" and aimed editorial content at the lowest common denominator. While that may increase profits in the short term, is the audience actually that relevant other than to sell ad-space? Is this where trained journalists want to end up?

Online and subscription distribution has a very low entry point. As a result publications can serve specialist audiences and provide high quality output cost effectively. Whatever you think of their forum membership, DP Review and Imaging Resource are great examples of one-man operations which not only started to make many established magazines look particularly poor quality, but in the case of DP Review actually poached a number of staffers from one the best, Amateur Photographer.

And then of course, there is TOP. The fact that it actually exists is a sure sign that things are far from bleak.

I believe several trends will emerge as the production of paper magazines and newspapers eventually dies out. There will be far more freelance contributors, online publications will share more information, many will rely on youtube and twitter for marketing rather than traditional advertising, and a number of new "brands" will emerge to challenge the mass media organisations.

In the end, it will be demand that is the final arbiter, and I don't believe that demand is falling off, only becoming more segmented, choosy and well informed.


Mike said, "Even the mighty Times is usually experienced by browsers of the web a drop or two at a time: you follow a link to an article or two, then surf away again—you don't spread the web version all over the kitchen table and wallow in it for 45 minutes over a bagel with coffee."

The Times model going forward is for the "browsers of the web" to continue to surf in and out, an article or two at a time as long as the total is less than one every one and a half days. Subscribers will be transitioning to iPads, Kindles and other devices that someone thinks can be spread over the kitchen table.

The 20 per month doesn't apply to "Readers who come to Times articles through links from search engines, blogs and social media ... [they] will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit.

Mike, doesn't the NY Times have advertising? That is the revenue they need to attract, I think. Look at Google. If you provide value, they will come.

Part of the problem is that news is becoming increasingly hard to trust, as many news sources are becoming more opinion and speculation than news (i.e. Time, Newsweek). Even wire services like the AP and Reuters put out opinionated items framed as just the facts, and it's infuriating. It seems fewer and fewer people in the journalistic profession have the ability or the inclination even to attempt to be objective.

I used to get news from Yahoo, one of those vampiric hubs, but increasingly, nearly everything they link is itself an opinion/speculation piece, often from unabashedly biased sources like Politico.

Hi Mike,

Living outside Alliance, OH, a city with a University, hospital, in the geographic triangle configured by Canton, Akron, and Youngstown,
I enjoyed picking up the Sunday Times, along with two our three issues of the daily each week, until the cost ran from ten to twelve dollars for those issues and finally the local Giant Eagle grocery stopped ordering them.

About a year ago, I started subscribing to the Times Reader and have received the Sunday and daily editions regularly. Times Reader can be installed on five devices and does not require internet access to read a downloaded issue. Each issue is stored as it's downloaded to your computer for a week. Sunday's paper remains until you sync and download the next Sunday's paper, which could be a problem for procrastinators who save sections, the Book Review say, or magazine, for later reading. Particular articles can be saved, however, for future reference as pdfs, as I find myself doing frequently with recipes, the wine columns, and particularly compelling feature writing. Others, can be accessed with subscription privileges from the Times website. The TR subscription is twenty dollars per month, which, despite its impositions on my reading habits, seems reasonable, and now includes full access through the recently released ipad app.

While free is appealing, sound and comprehensive journalism, as you argue, is expensive, more expensive annually, and decades-old advertising models intended to subsidize such reporting have diminished dramatically as audiences have turned elsewhere, sometimes to inferior if sensational sources, with informed and thoughtful discussion of topical issues as the primary casualty.

Perhaps the newly proposed subscription plans could pick up the slack, and twenty dollars, as I've suggested, seems a reasonable fee for my subscription. Still. I realize that twenty dollars could well be out of reach for potential readers and their families, resulting in an even wider gap between the information wealthy and their less informed neighbors, colleagues, and friends, a consequence more to fear, maybe, than the economic chasm opened by the recent decade's political choices and sure to widen with current proposals. For the time being, the free but limited access model might suffice for some users, particularly with search engine access allowances, with reason to hope that increased participation in the subscription system could generate fiscal opportunities for broader, friendlier, free if circumscribed access in the future, assuming advertisers see benefits from the coverage made possible by increasing audiences. If this means that those who can afford might have to pay a modest sum for expanded free access by many who cannot, paid subscribers can console themselves with the likelihood of a genuinely "democratic," informed and wiser national conversation, as well as by their access to and the survival of "the world's best photography magazine."

To borrow from you again, Mike, I'm just sayin'.

I too am a bit of a Vampire with the community site we run. Most of our $ comes from supporters and advertisers along with the considerable outlay of cash the owner/founder puts in. Without his investment there would be no way to offer the product and increasingly the original content we are starting to produce.

I guess I was lucky enough (or spend too much time on NYT site) but I have a subscription through the end of the year paid for by Lincoln Automobiles. After that I am happy to pay the subscription price. I don't see any other way for them to continue in the market without selling e-subscriptions. That or sell-out entirely and auction off the masthead. Could you imagine: The New York Times brought to you by Verizon! I bet someone floated that idea once or twice.

Anyway, I think you actually get 20 articles free not 20 visits.

From the NYT

3. What if I don't want to subscribe — can I still read NYTimes.com for free?
Back to top

Visitors can enjoy 20 free articles (including blog posts, slide shows, video and other multimedia features) each calendar month on NYTimes.com, as well as unrestricted access to browse the home page, section fronts, blog fronts and classifieds.

Your free, limited access resets every month: at the beginning of each calendar month, you'll once again be able to view 20 free articles for that month.

PS, if you enjoy this and other junk written by Mike and friends, send him a few bucks to keep TOP alive and well!

Thank you British taxpayer for the BBC which still believes in and practises real reporting. They have a good website, too.

"old-fashioned standards"

Isn't it a problem that you needed to refer to those standards as "old-fashioned"? Shouldn't they also be current standards?

Being a news aggregator is a much easier job than being a journalist. Just as putting your tripod's legs in existing holes is much easier than traipsing up the mountain at 5 AM to catch the view from a new(ish) angle.

On the other hand, the blame is not only on the people who aggregate news from other sources - far from it.

Television is also to blame. It creates the illusion that everything can be said in a pithy soundbite. People are used to that. But you cannot reduce everything to 20 seconds or two paragraphs.

The newspapers, though, try to follow the TV. There's a daily here in Croatia, 24 hours, which prints only short news items with lots of photos. And they are cheaper than the other dailies. They are quite popular. But I've seen leads elsewhere longer than their "stories". That's not the real journalism.*

Then, there's a great big tendency by the owners to see their newspapers as vague "products". For all the attention they pay to the printed word, they might as well sell chewing gum with a list of ingredients printed on the wrapper. The only important thing is that the paper makes profit. Whether it's by catering to the lowest common denominator, by pandering to their advertisers, by cheating their readers and printing advertorials (in the American sense), it doesn't matter.

Add the aggregators -- and the Web in general -- to that mixture, and it spells T.R.O.U.B.L.E. for the classic newspapers. With a capital T.

Putting a paywall around your site won't cure the situation nor it will automagically increase your revenue. But putting money and effort into professional, good journalism so you get the readership and advertisers after a while, it will increase your revenue.

* I don't really care whether they write about politics, music, environment or celebrities. Real journalism is always real journalism.

Unless I completely misunderstand the "Lens Digital Subscription Plan", one may view unlimited slideshows for free. Here is a quote from their Digital Subscription Plan:

"In the case of Lens, this means that you can peruse the front page of the blog (including clicking through the slide shows, but without being able to see the accompanying text) as much as you want."

So...it still qualifies as the best photo mag around.

Cheers! Jay

"World's Best Photography Magazine"

If your idea of the world is synonymous with The U.S. of A., you may have a point...

The New York Times is one newspaper I will pay for either online or in print. There's not much else worth the money these days IMHO. One of our former excellent, local newspapers got gobbled up by one of the Rag Corporations and became a veritable tabloid of car wrecks and murders. Sure, that stuff happens, but I need to learn about world events, trends, politics, arts & technology and how they affect my country and my community.

We are covered for unlimited online access to the NY Times because my husband subscribes to the NYT weekend issues for that leisurely morning spread of coffee, rolls & newspaper. It's just not the same on my iPad - no crinkle, no sprawl. However, if online were the only NYT access, I would definitely pay for that. I like to think that we are supporting the continuation of independent journalism in some small way by our weekend subscription. (If we're not, don't tell me just yet.......)

I don't see how the NY Times keeps track of the number of visits you make if you erase the cookies every time you close a browser.

This new use of a paywall understands that the Web is filled with occaisional readers, but does nothing to attract loyalty to the entire product.

They coulda put together something like "The Daily" or a formatted version for the iPad's Flipboard app. Anything but the current web site.

Consumers pay for presentation and ease of use just as much as, if not more so, content and access. After all, acces to the content is often available elsewhere.

For me The Times' paywall is just too great. Imagine my surprise last night when I tried to "upgrade" my NYT app and found what they are charging. I have no problem paying for apps or news but the new norm is that if you pay for it you get it ad-free. Not the case with the NYT app on android; it still has the same buggy flashing ads at the bottom of every screen. So I uninstalled the NYT and installed the Reuters app. We'll see how that works out for me.

I haven't subscribed to a newspaper in 30 years, I don't think. It wasn't the Internet that killed them for me.

And so the prices I see discussed for the New York Times site seem totally absurd; so far out of my comfort zone that I wouldn't even consider it.

(I grew up in a household where the NYT was the only newspaper we got; a few days late, via second-class mail. I read it some then.)

Plus One for THE WEEK! A buddy started me on it a few years ago and it's a very concise and contained news source encompassing important stories from around the world on a weekly basis. My Mom takes my old issues and says: "At my age, this is everything I want to know from around the world in one week." So there you go, a testimonial from Mom!

The on-line news/print news business is a huge controversy and commented on ad infinitum all over the web and on many programs. You could talk about this for the next year and not get it all out. The shut down of print media as a business model for most locals is very telling. No matter what anyone thinks, the local papers neither pay for or support the level of journalism needed to find out the truth behind most stories. That the NYT's at least tries to do it on a national level is what makes it a treasure, but a fast wanning one. Most local papers of even substantial size have 'early retired' most of their news staffs to save money, and replaced them with 'kids' that don't know 'dick-about-dick'.

Whereas the old staff had years of experience to know where the 'bodies are buried', and ferret out the truth about a situation, and in many cases had background relationships with well placed individuals that might be in the 'know'; the 'kids' think it's journalism to report on what each side of a situation is 'saying', without any compulsion to try and get to the nub of the controversy. As some of my oldest journalism buddies say: "...when has it become 'news-reporting' to repeat the lies of people as their 'position', without any expenditure to 'vet' the truth?"

I listened to NPR's On The Media Program last week, and the whole episode was about 'bias'. BUT, no one ever called in to talk about finding the TRUTH! The whole show was about people complaining their 'positions' were not covered in detail. Some one was even complaining that they felt the reporters on All Things Considered read left wing positive news with a more 'gleeful' voice than right wing positive news! Really? There's a roller-coaster ride through some f'ed up psyches!

My fear is that the news business is fast becoming flawed based on trying to accomodate the madness of fringe groups whose opinions and positions are not factual and can be easily discredited if the news staffs hadn't been purged of the professionals!

"we don't need a dozen photographers...but we sure as hell need one."

I beg to quibble. For reasons that should be obvious, one is not sufficient. Three or four independent entities strikes me as a minimum to keep everyone honest and on their toes (which number is coincidentally about 30% of a dozen).

By the way, thanks for another original, entertaining and thought-provoking take on things being reported by others. Quality reporting is critical, but quality analysis and criticism is important, too.

Setting the pricing issue aside, it seems to me that the Times is attempting to replicate online what happens in real life. There are those who need or want their own copy of the times and can afford it, and there are many who routinely skim free copies at libaries, cafes and commuter trains, or share with co-workers or co-habitants.

I'm not sayin' it makes sense, mind you...I'm just sayin'.

We will only need one subscription, yours, thanks to the "link-through" exception.

I'll have to wait on any personal NYT subscription. $240 a year is enough to make me look at what other options are out there, free and pay, and I don't have enough time in the day to skim though everything looking for the articles I actually want to read, so the blogger filter could be quite handy. I'll sharpen my teeth. : )

Perhaps we can all chip in on unlimited access for you, and you could be a sort of high-end image focused blood bank.


A fundamental problem here is that few readers--whether on the web or in print--have any idea how much it costs to produce a product with the quality of the Times. Other news media have dramatically curtailed their reporting and editing staffs--and the Times also has cut staff. But it still has bureaus and reporters in places from which other major media have long since retreated. Even if other media have not totally closed foreign bureaus, for example, they have tried to do things like cover the Near East from London--not exactly a solution designed to create knowledgeable reporters. Increasingly, we are seeing media relying on freelancers--also not a solution unlikely to foster knowledgeable reporting. Few freelancers can afford to spend the time required to develop expertise. Certainly the history of the news business has had its high points and low points, but, until the past 10-20 years, quality generally improved. Now the emphasis is on shorter stories; it is "headline news." Smaller staffs also mean that sources are not verified as well as they were in the past, editing is not as thorough, and editors and writers are increasingly passing off PR releases as news (see churnalism.com). We are fortunate that the Times is still run by a family devoted to the paper's news mission and willing to keep trying to find a way to make a profit. For many others, the news business is more about creating news than reporting it. I am reminded of Jon Stewart's response to question about what he thought of Fox News. He said, and I am paraphrasing, that he admired the network. Someone makes up a quote or charge about a political figure or issue on the early morning (or late prior night show) and it gets repeated on every newscast through the day. By the evening news, it has become widely enough broadcast that other media feel obligated to pick it up as if it were real. Like you, Mike, I worry about the effects of these changes on our ability to function as a democracy. But it may be that people are not willing to pay what it costs.

Having loved the New York Times all my life, I figure the least I can do is subscribe to the web version. With journalism being overtaken by opinionated know-nothings on cable I almost feel it's a patriotic duty.

I agree with you 100%- people need to think for themselves!

Some people are thinking that the paywall is a ploy to sell more physical paper:


Since I got my iPad, I do look at the NYTimes everyday. I really like it and CANNOT get a physical subscription where I live. We subscribe to the local area paper, but frankly I almost never look at it anymore. So I'm in a real quandary. Change over and maintain one subscription or... Further, the pricing issue is a mystery: if they lowered the price (making it more attractive to me and presumably others ), would that generate the target revenue they're shooting for?

I think people who regularly use the Innertube, like people on TOP, often over-estimate the potential of the technology. Newspapers were hammered down by the the *momentum* of the 'Net - it was the next greatest thing - but eventually, as is happening now, a lot of people are asking themselves, "Wait a minute -- where is this stuff coming from?" I really don't want to get my Middle East news from some guy holed up in an apartment in the Bronx, writing a blog. It is quickly becoming obvious that much of what passes for news on the 'Net is b.s., warmed over a bit, strained through the the intellect of somebody smart enough to buy a MacBook. So, I think, things are turning...

The same thing is now happening in book publishing, with the momentum of the KIndle and the Nook and the iPad. People are saying that paper books are history...well, I think they'll be a bit more resilient than that. Paperback books are cheap, sturdy, long-lasting, can be easily traded and even resold, and simply discarded etc. iPads are great and I have one, but you could buy a couple of paperbacks a week for a couple of years for the price of an iPad plus phone service...and then you have to go buy another iPad, if you want to keep up with the technology.

My feeling is books and newspapers will be around for quite a while -- and their on-line versions will become simply another method of delivery.

I read both The Times and the Wall Street Journal, and will continue doing so.

"World's Best Photography Magazine"

If your idea of the world is synonymous with The U.S. of A., you may have a point...

Absolutely, this looks like a provincial point of view. Generally, the British newspaper, The Guardian, has excellent photography and more of it than the NY Times, and certainly a better layout. There's also the Swiss Neue Zûrcher Zeiting. and perhaps a few more newspapers in other countries that equal the NY Times in photography,


"I don't see how the NY Times keeps track of the number of visits you make if you erase the cookies "

They just have to log your IP.

Luc, logging the IP is impossible if you're in an IP pool, like most of the ISPs use. Every time you connect you get a different IP. And even if you don't switch your computer off, they will disconnect you.

BTW, about the only reason they do that is to prevent you from running a server on your home computer. Yes, some ISPs in, I don't know, Britain, allow you to run a small server, but as far as I know, most do not.

"Thank you British taxpayer for the BBC which still believes in and practises real reporting. They have a good website, too." (John Woods)

Odd how we differ. I find the BBC's news coverage to be biased in favour of a metropolitan, young(er) audience with socially very liberal and mildly left wing attitudes. This is most obvious when watching TV news interviews or listening to such flagship programmes as Today, when the phrasing, core assumptions, nature of questions and frequency of interrupting the interviewee are shockingly one-sided. The web content is very well designed and laid out, but again the innate bias is discernible in the choice of words or headlines used.

Jessica: Why not link to http://theonlinephotographer.com ?

Great piece, and great final sentence, we definitely need that one, everywhere.
I put your site and The Week on my blog for my students when I started it six months ago. They need quality reading.

NYT is a dead paper IMHO. Although they had their day, that day is long gone. I would not pay a penny to subscribe to their rag.

Everybody at my home, everybody at my company, everybody at my previous company reaches the Times site from ONE IP address (lots of companies run their internal network behind NAT or web proxies or both). Dial-up users get a different address each time they call in. Cable modems change IP periodically.

On the other hand, they may well just provide NO service to people who don't accept the cookie. (I'd have the cookie be a long random ID that was just a database key, with the actual data residing in the DB at the Times; otherwise I'll be resetting my cookie values :-). )

It's rather amusing that there are as many posts deploring the fact that you have to pay for online subscription as there are deploring the decline in journalistic standards.

I'm just sayin'

"I find the BBC's news coverage to be biased in favour of a metropolitan, young(er) audience with socially very liberal and mildly left wing attitudes...".
I never thought I would live enough to hear the BBC referred to as a "leftish" medium...
"Cosas veredes, querido Sancho..." (Things you will see, dear Sancho...), from Don Quixote.

It has proven so easy for even a computer illiterate like me to continue get unlimited free access to the NYT that I am feeling a little ashamed of myself. Their paywall resembles the U.S.-Mexico border.

@ Henry.

The BBC is the subject of much debate in the UK (and forgive me if you are more than aware of that). There's a whole website called "Biased BBC", which is full of the reverse sort of bias that the BBC are accused of. I think it is however telling when senior BBC presenters weigh into the debate; just recently, Michael Buerk a veteran of some 20 years wrote an article in the papers highlighting the bias, his colleague Jeremy Paxman did so last year, and Andrew Marr a senior political journalist freely confessed to putting a left wing spin onto politics reports.

Only two things puzzle me: why the BBC Management allow their presenters to say such things about their employer, and why the Government don't do something about it. After all, we all pay £13 a month as the BBC tax, and it should not be too much too expect a taxpayer-funded public body to be politically neutral.

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