8:29 PM EDT, March 22, 2011
Last week, the New York Times revealed its subscriber plans and paywall details, which will become significantly more pertinent once everything goes into effect on March 28. Since that announcement, though, bloggers and tweeters are getting all huffy and condescending about all the ways to get over the paywall, and trying to deconstruct the pay structures, and everyone's going "this is it, this will be the end, it's going to be a huge failure."
I say stop wasting your time "trying" to "get around" the paywall. Not because the NYT, in the end, will prevail (though I believe in a few years it will), but because the newspaper isn't making it that difficult to get around the paywall to begin with. As Wired points out:
"This paywall is anything but simple, with dozens of different variables for consumers to try to understand. Start with the price: the website is free, so long as you read fewer than 20 items per month, and so are the apps, so long as you confine yourself to the “Top News” section. You can also read articles for free by going in through a side door. Following links from Twitter or Facebook or Reuters.com should never be a problem, unless and until you try to navigate away from the item that was linked to."
Also, my colleague tweeted a link to this Atlantic piece on an already-established Twitter account -- @freenyt --- which could, theoretically, provide a perma-workaround for those who are still anti-paying for their news. Which I totally respect: after 15 years of freebies, paying is a difficult adjustment.
But you don't even need to go that workaround route. You can clear your cookies to reset the 20-per-month limit, you can still see the homepage for free so if you see a headline you're interested in you can plug it into Google and access it there (assuming you've run up your limit and, what, don't feel like deleting your cookies?), or I'm sure you'll be able to find any number of mirror blogs to the Times with copies of the most talked-about columns and stories. If you want to continue reading the New York Times for free, you will be only slightly inconvenienced.
The Times left "holes" in the wall on purpose. It's one of the world's leading news publications, and the people who designed this thing are not idiots, and they know the Times would screw itself if it blocked everyone out right away. Know what else is really easy to get for free? Music. And there are plenty out there who download it illegally. But I wrote a while ago about how illegal downloading has dropped off. It's just easier, more convenient to pay for it. When you pay, you don't worry about viruses, you don't worry about incomplete or lower-quality albums or tracks. And it's not that much money anyway.
It's not going to be a moral revelation that makes people pay for their news. It will just be easier to do, so they (we) will. Plus: think of all the people you know who might go online to read the New York Times, but don't have any idea how to use Twitter -- you think those people are dumping their cache when they hit their 20-story limit? No way. The credit card will come out.
The paywall will do for the NYT what iTunes has done for music: It won't "save" the industry, exactly, but it will change it enough so that the industry can boom again one day, and everyone will finally shut UP about dying newspapers and failing industries and blah blah blah. It's not dying! It's just rebooting!