Starting on March 28, the New York Times will dive headfirst – yet again – into digital subscriptions and… take a deep breath… paywalls.
Or should I say the dreaded and much maligned paywalls.
The last time the New York Times tried this they dove into the shallow end of the pool and nearly broke their collective necks on the concrete bottom. Injured and near drowned, they climbed out of the pool.
Now they are going to try again. The paywall is indeed back, but they are tweaking the strategy based on the last failure. For example, readers will get 20 free stories a month and be allowed to share content on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels. People will be able to click the links and read the content, but it counts as part of their 20 reads a month.
Interestingly, the Times will limit people who arrive from Google to only five article views a day.
Paywalls have not been popular – especially among media pundits. Here’s BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis on paywalls:
“I believe building pay walls around online news is a bad business decision. Charging is also a distraction from the real goal: profitability and sustainability. We must rethink the entire ledger of the business of news, starting with costs, which must and can be reduced through collaboration, working in networks, and through the efficiency that comes with the specialization the internet demands.”
Here’s author and industry critic Clay Shirky on paywalls:
“The “paywall problem” isn’t particularly complex, either in economic or technological terms. General-interest papers struggle to make paywalls work because it’s hard to raise prices in a commodity market. That’s the problem. Everything else is a detail.”
I don’t agree with everything Jarvis or Shirky are selling. I don’t believe, for example, that journalism in a commodity. News reporting might be, but journalism, especially expository and investigative journalism, certainly isn’t. People will pay for excellent journalism. It just needs the right model.
We’ll see if the New York Times can make it work this time. I like the idea of still being able to link and explore the Times without buying one of the three packages they are offering (starting at a low $15 per month). So casual readers will still get free content. It’s the die-hards and news junkies that will pay.
Ultimately, consumers need to come to the startling realization that “free journalism” means “no journalism.” Free isn’t a business model that works. Highly trained and knowledgeable news reporters and editors stationed across the globe cost money. It’s the price of getting professional news and analysis instead of relying on the sporadic quality of news gathering done by amateurs.
There is a definite roll for citizen journalism in the new media marketplace. Getting first hand accounts from people on the ground at major events – like the rebellion in Libya or the earthquake in Japan – is priceless. But we need now – more than ever – professional journalists to give us perspective and to help us sift the hyperbole and fiction from fact.
I’m willing to pay for that. Are you?
The Times on the Times digital subscription program
Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine post “The Danger of the Wall”
Clay Shirky on paywalls