Felix Salmon

NYT side door opens up again

By Felix Salmon
May 25, 2010

Peter Kafka actually bothered to ask the NYT about how traffic from side doors (as opposed to the “front door”, which is the home page) would be treated once the paywall goes up. And he got a pretty unambiguous answer:

Readers that are referred from third party sites such as blogs will be able to access that content without hitting their limit, enabling NYTimes.com to continue being a part of the open web.*

That’s great news, and it confirms that the paywall is more of a navigation fee than an FT-style meter. All paywalls have workarounds, and it’s silly to spend a lot of effort trying to stop the determined from reading your content for free. The NYT paywall instead targets the loyal readers who go straight to the site.

Of course, there are consequences to that decision. For one thing, it shrinks the universe of potential subscribers, and therefore the amount of revenue the paywall scheme might realistically make. And more invidiously, it places the NYT’s own blogs at a huge disadvantage compared to everybody else’s. I can link to an NYT article knowing that my readers will always be able to follow the link, but Paul Krugman can’t. Which isn’t going to make him very happy.

And then there are all those devilish details as regards what counts as a story for the purposes of the meter. If a David Leonhardt column links to his rent-vs-buy meter, does following that link tick the meter up a notch? If I go to a blog home page and then click to read an individual post in full, is that an extra story-view? If I quickly click through half a dozen David Pogue blog entries, is that six? And what about search? Is the NYT essentially telling its non-subscribers that they should only use Google to find NYT stories, rather than its own search product? Does a page of search results even count towards the meter, or just when you click on one of those results to read a story?

Many of these details will surely emerge in coming months. But it does now seem as though one of the biggest questions seems to be settled. If you come to the NYT from Twitter or Facebook or Google or blogs, your pageview will not count towards your quota. That’s good news.

Update: The NYT has now sent me their own version of this statement, which explains that the side door works a bit like foul balls in baseball: they count when you’re not about to strike out, but they don’t count when it really matters.

Once the pay model is implemented next year, the majority of our readers will be unaffected when using the site and will continue to have the same experience they have always had. Readers will only be prompted to pay after reaching a certain reading limit. The pay model will be designed so readers that are referred from third party sites such as blogs will be able to access that content. Links from referrals will count toward reading limits but never trigger the gate, enabling NYTimes.com to continue being a part of the open web. Additional details we be unveiled later in the year including the reading limit and pricing.

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