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The New York Times Pay Wall: Financial Solution or Publicity Suicide?

April 7th, 2011

After months of speculation, on March 17th the New York Times officially announced its move to a pay wall system of article-viewing. And without a doubt, the new system is certainly a financial and publicity risk for the newspaper. It’s one of the first large-scale pay wall systems (others include Newsday and the Wall Street Journal and will ultimately affect the most people, as NYTimes.com is the most popular newspaper site in the country, with more than 17 million readers a month.

To summarize, website visitors are allowed to view approximately twenty stories a month at no cost, but, after that, will have to pay a flat fee of $15 for unlimited access. The system was launched over a week ago and it already has its fair share of problems. To begin with, it’s simple to get around. A basic Google search brings up dozens of hacking techniques. The ease of avoiding the pay wall is especially problematic considering that the Times paid approximately $40 million to program it. The New York Times is counting on the goodwill of its viewers to opt to pay for their news rather than get the same news for free, but in our day and age, is that likely to happen?

The Times is assuming that their news is indispensable and consumers will pay for it rather than going to other outlets for free. Though it’s hard to dispute the quality of New York Times reporting, is it worth paying for? According to NYTimes editor Bill Keller, the Times puts “a higher premium on accuracy than on speed or sensation.” Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said the pay wall will strengthen the Times’ “ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform.” Their messaging strategy isn’t designed to brag (well, not entirely), but rather to remind us that the Times is an exceptional product that should not be taken for granted. They believe that the pay wall is a small price to pay for the continuation of accurate, outstanding reporting.

However, perhaps this is not the best way to frame the message. Most people go to the Times for news and entertainment, not because they admire its ethics. The New York Times could have benefited from a bigger, more exciting launch and should have created innovative ways to create buzz and incentivize consumers to want to pay for their news. Though it’s too soon to predict how the pay wall will help or hurt the New York Times, it’s safe to say that the premier news outlet sure faces its fair share of challenges.

GIVE US YOUR SPIN: What do you think of the new pay wall – will you switch to another news site? And how do you think the Times should have unveiled this system?

Posted Under: Media & Journalism, Public Relations
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One Response to “The New York Times Pay Wall: Financial Solution or Publicity Suicide?”

  1. Jason Ginenthal says:

    I admit, I was a bit peeved when the pay wall was announced. With the economy still in so-so territory and many people either unemployeed or “underemployeed,” was now truly the best time for the NYT to launch a pay wall?

    But, here’s a secret: If you ever hit the wall, just change your browser. As someone who uses Firefox, Opera and Safari, I doubt I’ll run out of free articles.

    Also, people who have either a Barnes & Noble nook or an Amazon Kindle apparently receive free access to the NYT. Check out the link below:
    http://techland.time.com/2011/04/05/nook-readers-get-free-access-to-nytimes-com-too/

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