It's been a year since the New York Times set up a paywall that restricts access to their online content. 20 items per month are free, multimedia and blogposts do count to the 20 items. I do have some NYT feeds in my reader, but I'm not a very committed reader. I'm not even committed enough to bother figuring out how to circumvent the limit.
The NYT paywall did however have a noticeable effect on me. Whenever I saw a title in my feed that looked potentially interesting, I asked myself "Would I pay for this?" The answer was almost always "No." Since I more or less unconsciously carried over this thought to my other feeds, this has dramatically slimmed down the time I need to get through the unread items, because I no longer click on everything that looks kinda interesting. I am very grateful to the NYT for that education, and I'm sure my daughters are too. I'm not so sure that was the desired effect.
During the last year, I ran into the NYT paywall once. It was the 31st of the month, and it happened because I didn't know that they do count blogposts to the 20 free items.
The Globe and Mail reports that the NYT paywall successfully boosted the number of subscriptions. The NYT just announced that by next month they'll cut the number of free articles to ten. I'm wondering now if it makes sense to just remove them from my reader completely.
I dislike the NYT paywall not because they're trying to make money, but because they expect the reader to pay before they know what they get. I would vastly prefer a system in which I can click a button at the end of an article and put a few dollars in the writer's pocket. I know that there are tools for that already. It is puzzling to me why newspapers aren't using it.
I would prefer this for two reasons. First, I do value high quality written information very much. If I read a good article online that gives me something to think about, I'd be willing to pay for it. But then I want the money to go to the writer of the article I liked. Second, if I buy a book, I'll read some reviews and the blurb and open it and make up my mind. You can't do that with short reads. I find it virtually impossible to tell whether an article is worth reading from its title and/or its first 2 sentences. It's like you'd try to figure out if a song is worth downloading from a 1 second snippet. (I don't even buy songs based on the 30 second snippets. 30 seconds do however work just fine to recognize a song heard elsewhere.)
Part of the reason the NYT took this step might be the realization that financing web content by advertisement is not a good arrangement. Not only doesn't it bring in enough money, it also annoys the reader and creates an incentive for increasing traffic, not for increasing quality. Advertisements also carry hidden costs for the consumers. One might get the article free, but then one pays for the advertisement because the price of the product that is being advertised goes up.
I am basically blind to advertisements. Stefan and I, we once were in Frankfurt downtown by car, stopped first in line at a red light. We stood there for a minute or two, and when the traffic moved on Stefan asked what I thought of the advertisement. "Which advertisement?" I said. "The 30 feet high advertisement on the building you've been starting at for 2 minutes?" I hadn't seen it. (I saw it later. It featured a very photoshopped woman in a very tiny bikini. I forgot what they were trying to sell.) Making use of the principle of mediocrity, I would guess that most people share my selective blindness.
That having been said, while my brain does a good job filtering out adverts, I am annoyed by ads because it's ugliness that doesn't serve any purpose. If I need product information I'll look for it. Plastering the planet with advertisements is so yesterday. It's a relic from the times when you needed advertisements to make people aware of your shop, your service, your product. Now my phone delivers all the information I want exactly when I need it.
So to me it's clear that financing web content by advertisements has limits, and we reached them years ago. I understand the economical impossibility of providing content for free, which opens the question how to do it best. The NYT paywall doesn't make sense to me. Why for example is content free if you are directed there by a blog? It's the person recommending your content that is primarily expected to pay for it?
Jaron Lanier in his book "You are not a gadget" argues for micropayments. As long as I can chose what I find worth paying for, I am in favor of that. There's an interesting thread on that... at the NYT blogs.
Do you read the NYT? If so, what has been your experience with the paywall?