Reports have surfaced indicating that, after much internal discussion and debate, the New York Times is ready to announce its much talked-about subscription model.
According to sources who spoke with New York Magazine, the NYT has settled on a metered model under which NYT online content will remain free but after a certain number of views, users will be prompted to subscribe for further access.
Such a model is employed by the Financial Times, which limits the number of articles users can view on ft.com each month before they’re asked to pony up for a subscription. The model has worked well for the Financial Times, which is on the verge of pulling in more money from content than print advertising this year.
But will the metered model that has served the Financial Times so well work for the NYT if the reports are accurate and this is the path the NYT is taking? Don’t count on it.
The problem, as I see it, is that the NYT would be taking the easiest (or laziest) approach possible. A traditional pay wall would force the NYT to really evaluate the value of its content to the consumer to determine what goes behind the pay wall and what remains free. An NPR-style membership model would force the Times to create new value. Both of these models would likely help the NYT build a better product.
The metered model? It wouldn’t really force the NYT to do anything differently. The content would stay the same, and be freely available — up to a point. That means that readers really wouldn’t be given a compelling reason to pay up for content that has been available for free. Instead, they’d essentially be told, “It’s the same old content but you have to pay for your fix after a few free samples.“
For those who would point to the Financial Times as proof that the metered model can be successful, it’s worth noting that the NYT is not the Financial Times. For one, the Financial Times never tore down a pay wall only to later raise it again as the NYT is doing. Even more importantly, the Financial Times serves a niche market and, like the Wall Street Journal, generates a substantial amount of its content revenue through business subscriptions. Because of that, it has a different value proposition and doesn’t face some of the same challenges the NYT does.
From this perspective, it’s hard to see a metered model working for the NYT because such a model only addresses the NYT’s need for revenue; it ignores that fact the NYT has to make a strong enough case to consumers that product it was giving away for free is now worth paying for.
Hopefully, the reports indicating that the NYT is going to launch its new pay wall with a metered model are wrong. After all, if the best the NYT can come up with after a year of discussion and debate is the metered model, it would be an extreme disappointment for the entire newspaper industry.