Historically, when people paid for news, they paid for a newspaper—a physical object which had value to them. That model is still highly lucrative for the NYT, WSJ, and FT. But they’re taking very different approaches when it comes to the digital world. The WSJ and FT are taking a spines-out approach, on the theory that the pain of not reading their content will force people to pay. The NYT is taking a more open-door approach, on the theory that the pleasure of reading its content will be enough to persuade a large number of people to pay. It’s a far more attractive model, and one which is much more likely to attract new young subscribers over the long term.
Nick Rizzo has collated some thoughts on the NYT paywall from people in the key demographic between 25 and 30 years old, all of whom are paying for the digital-only version of the NYT. Here’s one:
I don’t want to have to deal with the dead trees. There are easily a dozen sections in the weekend edition I don’t have any interest in. It just seems wasteful.
The New York Times is my number one source for news and I appreciate the service it provides. I don’t mean to sound like a total goody-goody, and I certainly get around paywalls when necessary, but I think $15/month is a pretty good deal for the amount of enjoyment and information I get from the Times.
If they took the paywall away completely I guess I’d stop paying. I’m not really interested in skirting it, though. I also buy a lot of music, because I like the product, understand the incentives involved, and want its production to continue.
And here’s Rizzo himself:
I’m on the Times website literally all day long. Any work-around to avoid the paywall would still cost me precious minutes. Plus, I feel that maintaining a quality NYT is immensely important to the country as a whole, and I’m happy to play my part. I subscribe to the Weekender (indeed, to the slightly cheaper Sunday-only edition), which is the cheapest possible way to give myself online access. I subscribe to the New Yorker (which has a semi-paywall) and give to WNYC (which, of course, doesn’t) for similar reasons.
It’s worth noting here the way in which people often end up paying for the NYT largely in proportion to their ability to pay. Those who can’t pay, don’t. Those who can afford only the cheapest subscription buy that. Those with comfortable incomes subscribe to the seven-day paper product. It’s a great way of maximizing both audience and goodwill.
Paying for something you value, even when you don’t need to, is a mark of a civilized society. The NYT treated its readers as mature and civilized adults, and outperformed internal expectations as a result. Meanwhile, the WSJ and FT are still treating their readers with mistrust, as though they’ll be robbed somehow if they ever let their guard down a little. It’s a sad and ultimately self-defeating stance, and I hope in future they learn from the NYT’s embrace of the open web, even in conjunction with a paywall.