The New York Times "pay wall"

By Razib Khan | March 31, 2011 12:09 am

So what do readers of this blog think? Pay or no pay? It’s useful, and The New York Times is pretty massive in scope, if sometimes lacking in breadth. I love their data-oriented stuff, but I ignore their columnists and a lot of their “analysis,” which is frankly substandard if I know anything about the topic (which suggests to me if I don’t know about the topic, they barely do too). There are certain areas where blogs have a comparative advantage, and I don’t see why an organization with other strengths would even make an attempt.


Comments (18)

  1. dan

    i’m going to pay but they already gave me a complimentary sub. for the rest of the year (sponsored by Lincoln!) i really believe that it’s the most important newspaper in the world but maybe i’m too kind. many people scoff and are fine with getting AP stuff (which can be very good as well) or BBC articles, etc. but I feel the need to contribute and support investigative journalism. it doesn’t seem like there are any left that do it like the Times does. fav sections: Popular, World, US, Business, Science, health. Occasionally i go to NY/Region. i really wish that they’d let me put all of the “most popular” lists on one page because navigating the site is honestly, ridiculously bad. furthermore, i really wish they’d create a section for cooking and “green” because they ruin the science and health sections. their app is way more convenient to use – having to push back so many times is absurd. also, i agree that the columnists are horrible and i laughed when they tried their pay wall for their columnists. i thought: “you’re charging for the parts that i skip every day??” it’s nearly impossible to find anything i don’t already know in one of their opinion columns and i don’t know that much.
    it’s a little too PC for my taste but, since i know what to expect, i’ll take the good with the bad.

  2. Of course, no one who has a bit of technical knowledge needs to pay. Just use a proxy. (The same goes for The Economist – they have a 5 article a week limit).

  3. Free Wally

    One of the best three news and opinion organizations in the world, and as long as they have this Pay-if-you-want-Wall I’ll keep reading and commenting on what I read.

  4. I don’t think I’ll reach the 20 article limit in an average month. I think their paywall a stupid idea. You know what’s going to happen: people who have a subscription will repeat as much as they can of the articles on their blog, quoting excessively, changing a sentence here and there, and that’s what everybody else will read. I would vastly prefer if there just was an option to click and pay a dollar or two if I like an article. It doesn’t make much sense to me having to pay in advance for an article I might find crappy after reading.

  5. Ian

    @Bee – apparently articles that are linked to will be free, no matter what. So if a blogger links to an article, you’ll still be able to read it. Which raises an interesting question – why not set up a free blog simply to link to articles that look interesting? Sure, it adds a little effort, but not a whole lot.

  6. jb

    The paywall is so flimsy that it might as well not exist. There are numerous ways to get around it, and unless there are some teeth hidden in there somewhere that I haven’t come across so far, nobody who has any technical expertise, or who knows anybody with any technical expertise, or who is capable of finding and following the instructions on a how-to-bypass-the-paywall blog post, is going to bother paying.

    No, actually some of them will. Because even if you can get around it, the paywall does function as a sort of nag screen, and that does work with some people. Maybe that’s all the Times is hoping for.

  7. Charles Nydorf

    The ‘Times’ could economize in many ways without cutting back on the number of journalists or cutting their pay and expenses. They are a vast top heavy bureaucracy and would be far better if the investigative journalists were given more independence. Readers are under no obligation to support a private for profit corporation.
    Charles Nydorf

  8. DK

    The paywall is very selective. No matter what I do, I can’t see it. I am sure it is easy to bypass but right now there is nothing to bypass. Can this be something in browser config?

  9. @Bee: Do you also expect movies and books to be free unless you enjoy them?

  10. dave chamberlin

    I don’t mind paying because I love the NY Times, I bitch and moan about bad journalism so supporting good journalism is what I should do. But $35 a month seems a bit steep, that is $420 a year. Is there a cheaper option available? All I want is complete access on the internet, I don’t need it in paper form littering my driveway. Any thoughts out there on what I should do?

  11. ben

    For good content, be it movie, music, or intelligent articles, if the author/artist/developer believes they should charge a price, then it’s fine for them to do so. It’s unreasonable to believe that content *should* be free because you have had access to it for free until a decision was made to give it a non-zero price.

    However, paid content should come with a degree of quality meriting pay; I should “get what I paid for”. If I can get the same (or better) quality of content elsewhere without paying, then why should I use the paid service?

    If I can get what I want from BBC, CNN etc. and blogs, why should I pay for the New York Times?

    On the other hand, if I read quite a bit of the NYT and find their interfaces convenient for my lifestyle, at least sufficient enough to merit $3.75/wk (or whatever the price is), then why not pay for it?

    If I listen to Pandora all day, every day, and I am willing and able to pay when it requires me to do so to continue, why wouldn’t I?

    Of course, I’m addressing the concept of a paywall in general, not the actually implemented NYT paywall (which is apparently a rather ineffective “wall”).

  12. modesty

    you’re so cool…

  13. I don’t think it is going to matter. Either they strengthen the pay-wall and get few readers, and give it up again, or they keep the current meaningless pay wall. A few months or a year down the road it’ll be gone.

    The really good writers are not going to put up with not getting readers.

  14. ryan

    I’d guess the good writers are going to prefer getting paychecks over being “read” by grazers who drop by but don’t care to pay. There’s a reason the really good writers write for magazines like the New Yorker rather than for the Huffington Post.

    The New York Times isn’t primarily about really good writers anyway. It’s about really good reporters. It’s the reporting we want to pay for. Opinions are a dime a dozen, and as Razib points out, newspaper opinion writers have never been the best anyway. It’s true that I can easily replace Dowd and Brooks with amateurs who say what they say nearly as glibly. But without Shadid, Kirkpatrick and even Kristof (who is a columnist who behaves more like a reporter), I’d have had much less sense of what was going on in the Middle East in the last three months. Same with their national reporters.

    Where would I turn? The time-consuming pace of the tv network websites? The shallow Tribune online or the USA Today? The WSJ is already a paid site.

    For what it’s worth, I signed up for a Sunday subscription in order to maintain online access. My guess is that the NYTimes will make it work, and that they’ll slowly close the blogger-exceptions, probably initially by creating short linkable portions and requiring you to pay to read the rest.

    Besides, some enormous portion of the country pays for cable tv. It’s weird to me to read posters who are outraged or incredulous at the thought of paying for solid content, and know that most of them shell out $60 and $75 bucks a month for cable tv. (Not necessarily here – but statistically, many people who’ve posted saying they can’t believe they’d have to pay for the New York Times must fall in this category)

  15. Careless

    Ignoring the merits of whether or not you should be paying for them, unless you spend your time clicking around the NYT site to find articles there you won’t need to.

    “non-subscribers can view up to 20 articles a month for free. They can also — free of charge — view up to 25 articles a day that they find through search engines and an unlimited number of articles that they find via blogs and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter”

    So if you’re mostly reading these things on the recommendation of a blog or through search results, it’s not going to apply.

  16. jb

    As long as the paywall is based on cookies it will be trivial to get around it. Any real enforcing will have to be based on registration, and that’s incompatible with casual access through links. (Basing enforcement on IP address won’t work, because so many people browse the web from work. Plus, I can change my IP address simply by turning off my modem for a few minutes).

    I do spend a lot of time clicking around the NYT site, and I understand their need to get paid. I do pay for cable TV, but most cable companies provide pretty much the same product, so I really don’t lose anything by not being able to simultaneously access Time Warner Road Runner and Verizon FiOS (my local duopoly). With news it’s different. Not everything is reported everywhere, or reported the same way, but right now I have free access to (almost) everything reported anywhere. That’s what the pay model threatens! I can afford a subscription to the NYT, but not also to the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the dozens of other news sources that I occasionally read. If everybody demands payment, we could go back to the world where everybody gets their news from one source. I think that’s what everyone is really afraid of. I can live in that world, but the one I’m in now is better.

  17. jb

    Of course, somebody has to pay. With cable, I pay one provider, and I get vast amounts of content. The cable company takes care of passing some of my dollars on to the content providers, and everybody is happy. Likewise, with Internet, I pay one provider, and I get even vaster amounts of content. Same model for me, but my ISP doesn’t pass anything on.

    In my ideal world, a fixed amount from my monthly ISP bill would get distributed somehow among all the content providers I access each month, and everybody would be happy again. There would still be pay sites of course, just like there is pay-per-view on cable, but sites like the NYT (or GNXP!) could make more money by attracting large numbers of “basic Internet” users. Most important, the fixed-cost-wide-access payment model would be preserved.

    I think such a system is in fact technically possible. And of course in my ideal world, you wouldn’t have large numbers of sites doing their best to game the system and collect more than their fair share of the money, thereby wrecking everything. My ideal world is a really nice place to live! 🙂

  18. I was irritated that the new payment system was so easy to get around: it seemed so silly, and there is no force behind it other than moral force to make readers pay. But then I realized that this is precisely what makes it work – and if this were the intention of the New York Times, it was a brilliant plan!

    Any serious pay wall would significantly decrease the number of visitors to the site. This presented a real dilemma to the owners of the paper. They could not afford to lose their 30 million unique users. With the new system, they will preserve almost all of them. When people reach the 20 article limit they can simply clear their memory cache (10 seconds or so), rather than stop using the site. I think most will do this. But of course some people will actually pay. Thus, the payments are all gravy: no downside. What a strategy!


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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