The New York Times’ Porous Paywall

I think there's a rule today that every media-business blogger has to weigh in on the New York Times' finally announced online subscription plan, and I'm going to do my part by deferring to Felix Salmon's excellent analysis, which I think is spot on:

What does all this mean for the New York Times Company? I can’t see how it’s good. … By my back-of-the-envelope math, the paywall won’t even cover its own development costs for a good two years, and beyond that will never generate enough money to really make a difference to NYTCo revenues. Maybe that might change if the NYT breaks its promise to offer full website access for free to all print subscribers. But that decision would be fraught in all manner of other ways.

For the time being, though, I just can’t see how this move makes any kind of financial sense for the NYT. The upside is limited; the downside is that it ceases to be the paper of record for the world. Who would take that bet?

Agreed—this really looks like small potatoes, perhaps just a sop to virulent "we must get paid!" factions within the Times. I think it's just porous enough that it won't affect more than a small number of die-hard Times readers—and I'll bet most of them are already subscribers to the print edition, and thus will get the online version at a weird discount

Me, I'm in the latter camp—I still get the printed Sunday Times, so the online version will be free for me. Truth be told, as much as I'm a fan of the Times, I can't imagine paying for the online edition. As with the Wall Street Journal, the Times paywall appears to be porous enough that I'll be able to read what I want, through links and the occasional site visit, without triggering the subscription bar.

Critically, I understand that what I pay for when I subscribe to the print edition is printing and delivery of the paper. Those physical production costs don't exist online (per the comments below, advertising foots the bill for the journalism), and thus I don't understand why I'd pay $15 a month for

In any case, as Salmon says, it doesn't appear this is going to make a material impact on the Times' finances. Which really makes you wonder what the point of it all is, except maybe to make some sort of "we must be paid" statement. Sorry: Just wanting to be paid does not a business model make.



5 thoughts on “The New York Times’ Porous Paywall

  1. DBenk: That’s simply not true. The bulk of the Times’ revenue comes from advertising; the print subscription price probably doesn’t even cover the printing and distribution. That advertising is what pays for the journalism.


  2. Money is fungible, and advertising revenues continue to drop. So every bit of revenue that comes in pays, in a sense, for the journalism.
    The fundamental issue, as I see it, is that the communitarian architecture of the Internet doesn’t blend with the profit motive. The Internet was built to share information, newspaper companies to profit from it.
    I hope the Times’ pay wall works. The company that produces so much outstanding work deserves the support of its readers — online and off.


  3. The issue I see isn’t whether or not this will make enough money for The Times, but rather the punish the reader mentality. How can you justify a pricing structure that is varied by device you use and is more expensive than the printed product?
    It will be a black eye for a storied institution.


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