Opinion

Felix Salmon

Is the NYT meter really a navigation fee?

By Felix Salmon
January 22, 2010

Jay Rosen says he’s “uncommitted” in terms of passing judgment on the NYT metering plan, but the broad outlines of his take seem clear: insofar as it’s a metering plan as that term is commonly understood, it’s not a good idea. But it isn’t, and we still don’t really understand what it is, so it’s still too early to judge.

Jay explains most of this in his latest post, where he talks about a pledge from NYT CEO Janet Robinson and digital chief Martin Nisenholtz 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.”

Jay is right that insofar as we can take this at face value, it massively changes the whole concept of what a metered paywall is, to the point of inventing a whole new approach. Certainly, if this is true, I’ll happily continue to link to the NYT just as I’m doing right now, since all my readers will be able to follow my link, no matter how many times they’ve accessed nytimes.com that month, and no matter whether or not they’re subscribers. In fact, this is exactly what I said the NYT should do in constructing a metered system.

But will the NYT follow through on this pledge? It seems to me that they’re simply asking everybody to use external aggregators as a replacement for the nytimes.com homepage as the best tool for reading the site. Even people using the NYT’s own RSS feeds to find the stories they want to read might well be able to consume an unlimited amount of online content for free.

Or to put it another way: if this is true, then they’re not actually charging for NYT content; they’re charging for NYT navigation. What you get charged for isn’t reading NYT stories, but rather navigating from one NYT page to another. If you get to that second page any other way — by following a link in your RSS reader or your favorite blog or a news aggregator of some description — then you need no subscription at all.

Now, the navigation at nytimes.com is excellent, and I can see that some people might be willing to pay for it. But it’s a pretty weird thing to charge for.

What’s more, a scheme along these lines ends up hurting the NYT’s blogs most of all. The way that the NYT’s blogs are formatted, to read them you need to navigate separately from post to post — exactly the kind of behavior which will get charged under the new system. Reading a long magazine article costs nothing, if you get there from an external link; reading Paul Krugman’s blog, by contrast, will use up a lot of your monthly allotment, if you want to catch up on his most recent posts.

So while this policy is great for external blogs, like mine, it’s atrocious for internal blogs. Is that really something the NYT wants? I don’t think so — and as a result I suspect we might see some backtracking on this front between now and implementation.

Update: Josh Young makes a good point when he says there’s another way of looking at this paywall: it’s essentially a charge for being ignorant of any doors to NYT content beyond the nytimes.com homepage. Which dovetails with my thesis that the real target here is print subscribers, who tend to be less web-savvy.

Comments
8 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I would imagine that internal blogs would be exempted.

I would also imagine that aggregators wouldn’t get the free-link policy, if that’s technically feasible. Whether its done by explicitly banning some sites or by limiting how many articles an external blog can link to daily.

Posted by AnonymousChef | Report as abusive
 

you are absolutely right in thinking that this would target an older audience that is less web-savvy. people who, although they might read the times online–does so via the nytimes web portal. if the new york times is aiming to create a sustainable model for monetizing content however, this is terribly ineffective as that audience is rapidly shrinking due to both increased web savvyness across all strata of society and, naturally, death.

Posted by pongored | Report as abusive
 

If a standard news article is 650 words, and a standard blog post is ~250 words, and a magazine feature is anywhere from 5000-10,000 words, you’d think they should charge by the number of words you’ve actually read versus by the “piece”.

But that would imply some sort of clever new technology, wouldn’t it?

Posted by tmonkey | Report as abusive
 

This is not atypical logic. When I was at Economist.com our then-head of web had a similar viewpoint: if you wanted to take the initiative to hack around a paywall, or scour search results to find a copy, then fine; the pay-for-play would be for convenience and simplification. Which is not dissimilar from the Salon “pay up and we’ll get these interstitials out of your way” membership option. (Of course, The Economist has long since moved away from this model, but that’s another comment.)

Posted by werty | Report as abusive
 

There’s another aspect: how high is the hurdle.

The NYT may have a very low fee. Two dollars a month.
Or alternatively, the NYT may be ready for some sort of micropayments system which costs a few pennies or nickels an article,

The big unknown is the reading DEVICE. The NYT must (I think) be assuming that it will not just pay for a desk-top or a lap-top. The NYT is paying for perceived value and that might be on a iTablet I believe that for Apple the NYT will be the marquee “content provider” and puts its stamp of approval on the iTablet. It may well be that the big surprise is not (as if that is enough) the super-sized iTablet, but some sort of pre-paid clever payment system using the iTunes store.

Posted by dsucher | Report as abusive
 

The times already has a system in place for blog links, although it’s been deprioritized in recent years.

Back in the days when the times had a paywall around all content that was more than a few days old, they set up a special link that you could put in your browser toolbar. If you were at any article on the times website and wanted to link to it from your blog, you could click on this “blog” link and it would give you a separate, permanent adress that you could use as your link that wouldn’t be subject to the normal paywall rules. In other words, you could blog current articles and not have to worry that you were sending your own readers to an article stuck behind the wall. I used this constantly back in the day, but when the times went “all free”, I trashed it thinking it was unnecessary now.

Obviously, the paywall is going to be structured differently this time, but the “blog linking” coding is there, and probably only needs some minor tweaking to bring it up to date.

Posted by very-simple | Report as abusive
 

The Economist does this now,in that you cannot access the Table of Contents Page (really just a Navigation page) unless you are a subscriber.

My question for the NYT paywall is that will Kindle owners get free access? We subscribe to the paper already; it’s only fair to give Kindle or other Ebook subscribers access.

Posted by doctorrobert | Report as abusive
 

I think it’s not an option to deter those determined to steal. It’s an option for those who want to fund good journalism, but don’t want a subscription. Heck even a pseudo tip jar would be nice. I am willing to pay for good stuff.

Posted by Zdneal | Report as abusive
 

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