One of the most storied news dailies, The New York Times, has been
talking about a pay wall for well over a year. Like most newspapers,
times are tough, and to survive and thrive, new sources of revenue must
be found. For obvious reasons, subscriptions are one of the most appealing potential revenue sources.

Yesterday, The New York Times finally pulled the trigger and announced that it
will be launching a paid subscription model later this month.

The key
components of this model are:

  • Monthly prices ranging from $15 to $35.
  • The ability to read 20 articles each month, and certain sections, for free without a subscription.
  • No limit on the ability to read articles freely (regardless of the above limit) for certain search and social media referrers.

The Good

Newspapers are hurting, and the Times is no exception. The business models of the past aren’t the business models of the future. While it’s still unclear which business models will win out, it seems likely that they’ll have to include some form of paid content.

By launching a paid offering, the New York Times is at the very least trying to step into the future instead of burying its head in the sand and believing that the status quo is sustainable. This is a very important step for the newspaper.

The Bad

We live in a multichannel, multi-platform world, and consumers want to be able to access the content they’ve paid for when they want and where they want. Yet publishers have largely been reluctant to give them that flexibility.

In the case of the Times, access to content via nytimes.com and a mobile app is $15/month, access to content via nytimes.com and an iPad app is $20/month and an all-access plan is $35/month. Print subscribers get all of this included in their print subscription.

While there are a few economic reasons that can be cited for charging different amounts (Apple’s cut of iPad subscriptions, for instance), there’s little reason to believe that consumers are going to jump for joy at the structure the New York Times has established, which asks users to pony up more than $240/year above the base subscription price just to be able to access content in its most desirable format everywhere and anywhere.

The Ugly

From a reader perspective, the fact that nytimes.com content will remain freely accessible when coming through social media hubs (Facebook and Twitter?) is a great thing. Yet for the New York Times, it seems like a foolish approach.

After all, a significant number of consumers — including those most hungry for news — use these sites to share and discover content. Why not encourage them to become paying customers?

Essentially what the New York Times seems to be telegraphing is that it’s not confident it can convert one of its most important sources of traffic — social media. That’s sort of like an online retailer giving away product for free to potential customers who come through search because it doesn’t it think it can convert search traffic. Crazy!

Given that social media is already such an important source of traffic for newspapers and is only going to be driving an increasing amount of it going forward, the New York Times’ unwillingness to even attempt to convert this traffic hints that it really doesn’t believe it’s solved one of its most vexing challenges: finding a way to convince consumers that it has content worth paying for.