In only a few more days, March 28, the New York Times will be putting much of its content behind a “paywall,” meaning that you will have to pay to read the content of the NY Times (NYT). Certainly, the Times is one of the most important newspapers in the world, and it is the first paper of its size and influence to use the paywall model. We’ll see how that works out for them.
Under the current plan, the NYT will let web readers view 20 stories per month for free. If you click on the 21st story within a month, you will be taken to the paywall, and offered several different plans. My understanding is that there will be 3 different subscriptions available, depending on how you want to use the site. The lowest subscription price is $15 per month, and the most expensive being $35 per month. In my opinion, $15 per month is too high for a starting point, and $35 per month is way overpriced for any level of service.
Newspapers are in a tough place right now. Because of the Internet, a readership of actual “paper” newspapers has gone down considerably over the past few years. Because the readership is decreased, the amount that papers can charge advertisers is also lower. So, papers are getting hit on both ends. Fewer people buying papers. Because of that, ad revenues are also down. How is a newspaper to make money these days?
Personally, I am not opposed to charging people for content. I have some sites where I have considered charging people to read the site. I never did make the leap, though, and my sites all remain free to readers today. That said, though, I do not oppose the concept, and the day may well come when I decide to charge people to use some of my sites. However, I also believe that it is important that not every site should be a “pay per view” site.
For a site like the NYT, I would, if I were them, make the majority of the site free, but then I would charge for more highly specialized and in-depth parts of the site. Maybe the majority of the article would be free, but for those who want or need more in-depth coverage of the topic, they pay a small price to gain access.
One of the problems that most newspapers will have is going to come from the fact that there is a lot of competition on the Web. There are thousands of newspapers from all over the world who are on the web. The kicker is that these days, syndication of news articles means that many papers have the exact same articles as the other papers. For example, if the Associated Press writes an article, that article can appear in the New York Times, and also in 5,000 other newspapers, exactly the same in every instance. So, I have to pay if I want to read it on the NYT site, but I can read it from the Los Angeles Times for free? I am sorry, NYT, but that won’t work. When it comes to Editorials, Opinion, and strictly local news, much of the NYT is unique. When it comes to pure news, it simply is not.
So, the decision on how to make money from a site is an important one for big boys like the NYT and other corporations. I would have thought that a big site like the NYT could make some nice money from ad placements on their sites. Perhaps my assumption on that is incorrect, though, given that the NYT is on the verge of making a very big step.
Wherever you stand on the paywall issue, the next few weeks or months will be very interesting to watch. Anybody who publishes information on the Internet, like me, will be watching to see what happens to the plan of the NYT. It can affect the future of every Internet publisher, no doubt.