In 2011, The Grey Lady made waves by introducing its paywall. It received its share of praise and criticisms about its long term viability, ability to pay the bills, and potential alienation of its readership. Recently, several major US papers have followed the Times’ example by erecting paywalls of their own. Papers are plugging the gaps in their systems and the leaky paywall itself may become a thing of the past.
The Washington Post is the latest of the big papers to consider going behind a paywall. Rather than following the “charge first and ask questions later” strategy of some other sites, it is actively gathering information from its users beforehand. In preparation for its imminent block, visitors are being polled on:
How often they read the site.
What other sites they read,.How much would they pay?
There were three options… seven-day delivery and unlimited Web access for $24.95 a month, unlimited Web access without a print subscription for $14.95 a month, and Sunday delivery plus unlimited Web access for $7.95 a month.
The Boston Globe previously allowed visitors from Social Media sites to read 5 articles per month before requiring a subscription. That number has now dropped to 2 articles per month.
This change only affects the BostonGlobe.com site. They still maintain their free Boston.com site, which contains less content.
Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg says, “We have been trying to find the right balance between the free-sharing culture of the Internet and paid access to premium Globe content.”
Spokesperson Eileen Murphy says that keeping these venues of free access open is a feature, not a bug:
When we launched our digital subscription plan we knew there were loopholes to access our content beyond the allotted number of articles each month. We have made some adjustments and will continue to make adjustments to optimize the gateway by implementing technical security solutions to prohibit abuse and protect the value of our content.
What Does It Mean?
Paywalls seem to be where the online news industry is heading, at least for now. These three papers have different methods of going about it:
WashPo: Getting feedback on various payment plans before proceeding.
Boston Globe: Offering a free option and a superior paid option with few leaks.
NYT: Making the paywall leaky to get users acclimated before clamping down.
Opinions run strong on which method is best, or if paywalls are a viable long-term solution for monetizing online news. I think that DigitalFirst’s John Paton’s words of caution are appropriate for those of us on the outside. We should be humble in drawing our conclusions:
[E]motional arguments over what something is worth in a market economy is a near worthless waste of time at the expense of finding real solutions to the problem.
After much talk and speculation today is the day when the New York Times paywall finally goes live – well, that is unless you live in Canada where you were lucky enough to see it implemented last week. The trend towards paywalls is a one that has been a bit of hot topic in the industry for most of last year and now, with the NYT taking the plunge, it is worth exploring some of the comments out there on the issue.
Maybe the first voice to consider is that Martin Nisenholtz, NYT Digital Czar, speaking with Peter Kafka of MediaMemo. Nisenholtz implies he isn’t expecting the majority of readers to become paying readers, just the plan is to convert a minority of heavy users into subscribers, with the intention of remaining a “very very large player” on the Web. With ad revenues on the increase, in the UK at least, then perhaps the NYT are attempting to find a “third way” between paywall and free access?
Two other articles that really caught our eyes are these from Fast Company and Harvard Business Review, both looking a bit deeper at paywalls and the potential thought processes behind them for consumers. With Web, iPad, and Web plus iPad options now available, not to mention the 20 free articles each month, who knew paywalls could be so cognitively taxing?!
Finally, paidContent have put together this handy comparison chart of how the biggest US newspaper paywalls match up:
What are your views on paywalls? Will you, or do you, subscribe to any? Let us know below.
New York Times has done a nice write-up here on technology news aggregator Techmeme, the site which geeks and industry leaders flock to daily. As Techmeme evolves and introduces the human touch, alongside its traditional software algorithms, to collect news and blog posts the Times sees potential in this aggregation model more than just the tech sector.
Techmeme could become a model for other industries as a useful way to harness the increasingly unwieldy Web and arm readers who are preparing for business meetings or cocktail parties. Techmeme, a start-up company based in San Francisco, also publishes aggregation sites for politics, celebrity gossip and baseball, and hopes to expand to topics like business or energy.
Industry-specific aggregators like Techmeme provide focused, grouped news stories which can be essential for readers requiring a succinct digest of the main topics of the day. With aggregators often getting a bad press, it is refreshing to see the benefits they offer being discussed and encouraged not only for readers but for publishers too.
The two juggernauts of the U.S. newspaper world are both experimenting with new initiatives to broaden their appeal beyond traditional audiences.
The New York Times looks set to expand its local editions into ten to 15 cities in the near future. paidContent.org sums things up nicely, also drawing on yesterday’s Audit Bureau of Circulation figures and pointing to the various considerations the NYT should mull over before doing so. Interestingly one being:
What about the Journal? The Journal is starting to move on local editions as well. Will it meet the NYT expanded challenge with local partnerships of its own?
In partnership with the WSJ, foursquare has developed an interesting feature allowing users to see news articles as tips when they check into various locations across New York City. With tips being editorially hand-picked, to avoid unpleasantries creeping in, this could be a nice feature with plenty of room to grow beyond the shores of NYC.
It seems a week can’t go by at the moment without the debate around newspaper paywalls generating more column inches. ReadWriteWeb picked up on an interesting story concerning Newsday and the apparent lack of success seen by its recent subscription revenue model. Having spent $4 million on redesigning the site anticipating the introduction of a paywall but the subsequent return of only 35 subscribers in a three-month period doesn’t look good. However, by digging a little deeper the figures aren’t quite so clear-cut, as subscribers to the local cable company also enjoy free access to the Newsday site, so it is probably unfair to draw too many conclusions on this example alone. The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger also spoke out on paywalls this week, paidContent gives an excellent write-up on the speech here.
As we mentioned previously the much vaunted Apple iPad was announced this week and the potential for media does look attractive. The sharp, display, ability to embed videos into articles and the New York Times app already being demoed it looks like an exciting mix of the more traditional paper form and the digital future, although whether the device takes off and publishers create the dynamic content necessary remains to be seen.
Twitter Lists have been generating plenty of buzz this past week since their launch at the end of October, and it’s fascinating to watch the many ways they are being used in such a short space of time.
Mashable have published a piece on how news outfits are really running with this new feature, such as creating staff lists and gathering registers on favoured Twitterers. The New York Times staff list, already including 96 staffers, looks like a great resource for finding insightful tweets plus shows the NYT understands the boundaries between traditional news and social media are increasingly blurred.
In the UK The Guardian has created a handy list of Members of Parliament, so if you want to quiz your local MP on their expenses the Guardian’s list could be a good place to find them! Similarly CNN has curated a list featuring politicians involved in November 3 elections.
Any other particularly noteworthy news lists out there? The value seems to lie in creating filtered, specific lists that can that provide relevant information without all the noise and for the publisher there is always the potential to drive more traffic to their site.