The devil in the NYT meter’s details

By Felix Salmon
January 21, 2010

One issue which I’m sure has yet to be settled inside NYT headquarters is the status of blogs vis-a-vis the nytimes.com paywall. On the one hand, blogs are a central part of the website’s value proposition — exactly the sort of extra digital content that they want people to pay for. On the other hand, blogs simply don’t lend themselves to paywalls in general, or to metering in particular. While newspaper articles are self-contained entities — visit once, get the information, you’re done — blogs are conversations. As a result, participating in any one conversation — reading any one blog — will in and of itself use up whatever pageview quota the NYT might be willing to give you.

Even if the blogs stay outside the paywall, the NYT might find it hard to communicate that effectively — and in any case, as Ezra Klein says, non-NYT blogs are sure to be the big winners from this move. Many of the NYT’s star blog properties, including Paul Krugman and Freakonomics, are likely to leave nytimes.com — or at the very least mirror their NYT postings elsewhere — if they wake up one morning to find themselves within a firewall.

This is just one of the many bits of fine-tuning which are going to use up an enormous amount of developers’ and managers’ time. Will the NYT still break up long stories into multiple pages? If so, how will it ensure that it’s counting stories read rather than pages visited? And how will it communicate that to its readers? Will they be able to see their own personal meter as it ticks up towards the paywall level? What about slideshows — how many meter-points will they rack up? And what about things like the Times Skimmer, which is one page with hundreds of different articles on it?

In general, many of the most innovative and interesting things which the NYT has done in the multimedia/website space have been experiments which break the old-fashioned equation of one newspaper article = one web page = one pageview. But the meter system seems designed to keep that hoary old convention clattering on into the indefinite future. It’s a problem the NYT is bringing on itself, for precious little upside. It’s going to be a serious distraction, and that’s something no one in the NYT needs right now.

Update: The NYT says that “if you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones”. That’s good news for bloggers linking to nytimes.com — but I suspect it’s going to be non-trivial to implement.

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Comments
6 comments so far

>>if you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones>>

This effectively means there will be no paywall. There will be links to everything.

Posted by foosion | Report as abusive

regarding foosion’s point – doesn’t this mean there will be the same backdoor via Google that WSJonline has?

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

AYFKM ? You mean if I google the URL and then click on the page containing it and then click on the link, I will bypass the meter ? How long before nytimeslinkstoday.com ?

Posted by msobel | Report as abusive

Alternatively, you could just paste the referrer gunk to the url.

Posted by Sensate | Report as abusive

Implementing referrer-based access in a way that doesn’t deduct from the user’s paywall limit isn’t difficult.

Consider that each method of gaining access has a “cost.” The highest possible cost is a monetary one, i.e., buying access will always be the user’s most expensive option. The next most expensive option is to use a paywall credit, since once used you can never get it back. The least expensive option is the referrer-based access.

So it’s a simple question of NYT assigning the right costs to different types of licenses and letting the access management system take it from there. Of course, access management systems that provide this functionality to publishers are readily available.

Disclosure: The company that I work for, Atypon, develops and supports the application that the Financial Times uses to power FT.com’s paywall and digital commerce. New York Times Digital is also a customer.

Posted by kevinacohn | Report as abusive

Technically FT’s paywall, and indeed the NYT’s current “registration-wall”, are very easy to circumvent: simply delete the site cookie, and your view accounting is reset.

But as kevinacohn says, tracking where the viewers come from is not technically difficult – just check the Referer: header (misspelling is in the spec) in the HTTP request, which is something the browser sends automatically. But on the other hand, it would be quite easy for someone to write e.g. a browser plugin which fills in a bogus Referer entry whenever browsing the NYT site, such that every intra-NYT link appears to be an incoming link from the outside world when the browser requests hit the NYT server.

Posted by BarryKelly | Report as abusive
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