And in today’s fractured online media environment, the tougher your paywall, the more annoying it is. The NYT paywall is done pretty well, and I still find myself being asked for a username and password on a distressingly regular basis when I’m reading it on the iPad, often when articles come up in an app like Twitter or Flipboard, and I try to use the embedded sharing tools. More distressingly still, entering the password doesn’t always work.

But compared to the FT, the NYT paywall is a dream: not only do I run into the paywall pretty much every time I try to read an FT article on my iPad, I even run into it pretty regularly when I’m on my desktop computer. I’m a paying subscriber, but a very unhappy one: repeatedly typing in a username and password on a touch-screen device is decidedly unpleasant. Overall the user experience at the FT in general seems to be taken straight from the TSA: the general principle seems to be that no amount of customer inconvenience is too much if it makes sure that no unauthorized person will ever be allowed through.

Oh, and one other thing: when I signed up I selected the $4.99 per week option, and the FT helpfully told me that over the course of a year, the total annual payment charged to my credit card would be $259.48. What they didn’t tell me was that I’d have to pay that all at once — and then some: they actually charged me $282.52, after slapping on 8.9% sales tax. (The NYT, by contrast, doesn’t do that: if they do charge sales tax, they don’t break it out, and instead bundle it into the total subscription charge.)

I’ve been getting the physical NYT delivered to my home for well over a decade, which means I pay a lot more for the NYT than for the FT. But I don’t do it in one huge annual chunk, and I don’t feel like I’ve been tricked when I see my credit card bill. As a result, I don’t begrudge the NYT the money I pay them, but I feel much less well-disposed towards the user-hostile FT. And I frankly don’t read the FT all that much, either. I get my news socially, and people simply don’t share FT stories in the way that they do with the NYT. The FT annoys its readers into taking out a subscription; the NYT, by contrast, has persuaded hundreds of thousands of people—it’s overtaken the FT already—to pay for digital-only subscriptions even when they don’t really need to. That’s a much more positive model.

UPDATE: The sales tax question might have been answered! Ryan Chittum points me to the New York State sales tax rules:

If you sell publications that qualify as newspapers or periodicals for sales tax purposes, you don’t need to charge sales tax because they’re exempt. The exemption also applies to charges for electronic versions of newspapers or periodicals if you sell a hard-copy version, and both versions contain the exact same information (except for advertising).

The question here is what is meant by the phrase “if you sell a hard-copy version”. Clearly my subscription to the NYT is exempt from sales tax, because I’m subscribing to the paper version. But what about my digital-only subscription to the FT? The FT does sell a hard-copy version which contains the exact same information—but it just isn’t selling that hard-copy version to me. Is that why they feel they have to charge sales tax?

Further reading:

The NYT Paywall Is Out of the Gate Fast. 281,000 paying digital subscribers in three months show readers will pay for quality news

Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at