New York Times To Impose Paywall

The New York Times announced today that as of March 28, full access to the newspaper’s web site will no longer be free. This is not a surprise, but what is a shock is the price. The Times offers three prices: for web and tablet access, it’s $20 a month. For web and smartphone access, it’s $15 a month. But for access using all three platforms, it’s $35 a month. That’s $420 a year to read the New York Times on multiple devices, a price that approaches the cost of a print subscription. (Full 7-day home delivery in New York City costs about $608 a year.)

Current home delivery subscribers will get full, free access to the digital content. Interestingly, it seems that even those who only subscribe to the New York Times Book Review at a cost of $91 a year get that access, as do those who get full weekly, weekday or weekend subscriptions. (I know someone who subscribes to the Book Review alone, at $1.75 a week. When they the page about the free access to the new digital version for home delivery, the texts there seemed to indicate that their subscription would give them free access.)

I’m all in favor of paying for news. I think it’s important, and I think the “free” experiment we’ve been living with for years has greatly hurt the ability of newspapers to provide quality news. But even just for web and tablet ($260 a year) or web and smartphone ($195) access, I find these prices to be too high. I’d gladly pay, say, $100 a year to access the New York Times web site, but I can’t see committing to much more than that. Especially because even subscribers will still see ads! It’s also worth noting that even those subscribers paying $455 will have to pay more for crosswords, if they wish to have online access to them. And, one more thing, they really need to improve their crappy iPad app to give value to tablet subscriptions.

Granted, all users will be able to read 20 articles a month, and some trickery will allow them to read articles if the enter the site via links on other sites. But many users will simply go to other sites. This was bound to happen no matter what the cost, but this high pricing scheme will certainly turn off a great many readers (such as myself) who would be willing to pay for content on the site.

My guess is that this will be a resounding failure. The New York Times has already sent out e-mails to existing users saying, “As a loyal reader of NYTimes.com, you will receive a special offer to save on our new digital subscriptions,” and I think many people, with a “special offer” will try out the service. But I think the New York Times is pricing themselves out of the market.

Time will tell, but on March 28, I think the New York Times is in for a surprise.