NYTimes.com’s decision: Preliminary thoughts

By Steve Outing

So the long-awaited (well, at least by many of us media geeks) decision by NYTimes.com has been announced. And the winner is:


According to the Times’ own report, by Richard Perez-Pena:

“Starting in early 2011, visitors to NYTimes.com will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.”

That doesn’t sound like the more nuanced approach to a metered paywall that I espoused on this blog yesterday. Then again, if it won’t be implemented till 2011 (!), there’s still time to create a system that’s less black-and-white and makes more sense.

Until I get a chance to quiz one of the Times execs on this decision, I’ll withhold judgment. Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks (to me) on the surface.

But there’s one quote in Perez-Pena’s piece that drives me up the wall. It’s from Janet Robinson, New York Times Co. president and CEO:

“There’s no prize for getting it quick. There’s more of a prize for getting it right.”

Sounds reasonable, you say? NO. … NYT has been studying this issue for a year; now it will take another year before finalizing and implementing the metered paywall. This is yet another demonstration of the newspaper industry’s conservative nature which has served it so poorly over the last decade and a half (since the first web browser was unleashed on the world).

Let’s see … one year. In the Internet age, the change that will likely occur on the technology scene — which will impact all media publishers profoundly — is probably going to be more than in what we saw in the entire decade or the 1970s or 1980s.

A big theme for 2010 in media will be mobile smart-phones and portable digital tablets; newspaper companies better have that figured out soon. (Perhaps NY Times Digital, with its large technology development staff, is well on its way.) But the Times is still mucking around with the details of its website metered-paywall decision and needs another year? Oy!

There are many things killing off the newspaper industry, and this is one of them. You’ve got to move faster, folks.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

10 Responses to "NYTimes.com’s decision: Preliminary thoughts"

  1. Jennifer F.
    Jennifer F. 8 years ago .Reply

    I agree it makes little sense to sit on “progress” and twiddle your thumbs but there may be a method to the NYTimes madness. With the iSlate and other e-readers about to come into the mainstream in 2010, wouldn’t it behoove the NYTimes to hook these new tech-readers while its content is still free and then after they are baited, the 2011 hook sinks in.

    My question is: Will the quality of the NYTimes outweigh the cost to the reader?

    And with the possibility of a major decline in readership, I expect further downward shifts in employee retention which translates to a lower quality of journalism. Are people planning on paying more…for less? I doubt it, especially if other news groups keep their current free-for-all, leaving the cheese standing alone.

    Timing is everything and to the credit of the NYT it’s a decent business technique to hold out until more hands are warmed with e-readers. Maybe.

    I guess we’ll all find out soon enough. Oh, more of my opinion on this matter can be found here and thanks for this forum. http://bit.ly/5wB97T

    Jenn F.

  2. Adam Sherk
    Adam Sherk 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve, on a less serious note, I came up with a list of (not) real reasons why the NYT is moving to a pay wall :) http://www.adamsherk.com/publishing/top-10-reasons-for-new-york-times-paywall/

  3. Christopher Ryan
    Christopher Ryan 8 years ago .Reply

    I’m not that opposed to this idea. It means the Times will retain a huge audience, since a reasonable number of articles per reader will remain free. That means their influence will remain largely intact. With luck, they’ll even generate enough revenue to pay some reporters. I just hope they’ll exclude huge-news articles from the meter, so people can always count on access to really big news from the Times, even if they have reached the metered limit.

  4. Bill Mitchell
    Bill Mitchell 8 years ago .Reply

    I hope that one of the things the Times does in the year they’ve given themselves is consult the suggestions you posted the other day: http://steveouting.com/2010/01/18/if-nytimes-com-does-put-up-a-metered-wall/.

    But we do disagree on the timing. As I said in my post yesterday, taking a year to figure out the details strikes me as smart: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=131&aid=176180.

    2010 is going to be a year of big change — mobile, tablets — not to mention the uncertain recovery/evolution of advertising. Seems to me the Times has lots much more to gain than lose by making sure their pay plan fits the landscape.

    Plus, they say they lack the technology to integrate a metered system with print subscriber database. Among other things, the paper needs to avoid the hassle that print subscribers encountered in Times Select days of multiple user names, etc.

    Anyway, let’s meet here again on Jan 21, 2011 and see how things look.

    – Bill

  5. Roger Plothow
    Roger Plothow 8 years ago .Reply

    I’m not sure which of us should be concerned, Steve, but I agree with you on this one. The Globe and Mail interviewed me yesterday about the Times’ decision (I’m sure the Times will be eager to read what I have to say), and I told them that the Times seems to have gotten it exactly backward — as you’ve said, rewarding the least valuable readers. And the hesitation and hand-wringing at the Times is pitiful, really.

  6. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Bill M.: On our disagreement over NYT taking a year to design its metered-paywall system…

    If you look at the hugely successful Internet companies (many of which are partly media companies), they amassed their billions by experimenting and changing and improving their services regularly and quickly, without taking a year to make and implement a single decision.

    E.g., Facebook frequently makes major changes; sometimes they go over well and sometimes they flop spectacularly. When the latter happens they retreat and try something new. Yet Facebook’s growth has continued unabated.

    Yes, NYT and other newspapers should proceed cautiously with revising/reinventing their print product, because that format’s older audience is more sensitive to change. But online (and with mobile), my position is that it’s an easy environment to make changes and try new things, and if they don’t work out then turn on a dime and try something else.

    NYT has taken, I believe, a year to get to this point of “decision.” Now it needs another year to properly design and implement. And if it debuts the metered paywall in 2011 and it’s a disaster, how long will it take to try something else if tweaking the dials on the meter fails to right the ship?

    I just don’t see how any corporation that’s future is tied so closely to the Internet and mobile can succeed playing by the old rules of take-your-time-and-get-it-just-right.

  7. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Roger: It’s nice to occasionally not disagree on something. 8^)

    They don’t listen to me, either. My vote still would have been for the premium-membership program option (done right and done big). But given their choice, I think some modifications and nuance might work.

  8. […] on Twitter about the announcement was collected at E&P In Exile and the new site MediaCritic. Steve Outing and Jason Fry don’t like the wait ’til 2011, and Cory Doctorow is skeptical that […]

  9. […] its best customers, risking driving them away. Steve Outing, meanwhile, criticizes the paper here for announcing the paywall now but waiting a year to implement it. Jay Rosen focuses here on the […]

  10. Dave
    Dave 6 years ago .Reply

    I sadly agree. The newspaper industry is dying slowly. Some kids no longer know what a newspaper is. Most people are content on getting their share of the news from tv and their tablets. And on another note, this is saving us paper, eventually, saving us many trees.

Leave your comment