In Defense of the New York Times Paywall
The conspiracy to keep poor people uninformed, also known as the New York Times digital subscription plan, went into effect on March 28.
The oblivious capitalists at the pan-ultimate hub of intellectual elitism actually want to charge us, the information-driven public, to read their news content online.
The gall is unbelievable. It’s not like the reporters, editors and graphic designers at the Times work around the clock to provide the most in-depth coverage available of important international, national and local news, and infographics to simplify and explain complex concepts like the federal deficit or the long-term effects of radiation from the recent disaster in Japan.
It’s not like their reporters are out in the field, risking their lives to bring us details of developing conflicts in the Middle East, getting kidnapped and possibly tortured.
Oh wait. Shit.
Seriously though, the first 20 articles per month will still be free, and after that you can buy unlimited access to the site for $15 monthly. I know this generation doesn’t like to pay for news or music any more than hippies like to pay for haircuts, but take a minute to consider what 20 news articles is really worth to you. That’s a lot of information. And a lot of work went into gathering and organizing that information to deliver it to us, the information-hungry public.
We’ve gotten used to getting things for free, and now we think we’re entitled. We equate a news article to a song and think that since we can find it online, we have the right to get it for free. The difference is once you download a song you can listen to it over and over again, and the artist can still make money by performing it in concert. Songs are lasting merchandise, and an artist only needs to come out with a few new ones per year, if that.
With news, new content is coming in constantly, and it becomes irrelevant days, or even hours, after it’s created. If the same were true of music, and artists needed to create new songs every day to keep up with the demand, there’s no way concert tickets and T-shirt sales would be enough to cover the costs of production, let alone to make a profit. Likewise, revenue from print subscriptions and ad sales are not enough to keep journalism afloat if people get the content for free online.
Granted, the number of people who read enough articles to be affected by the paywall don’t already have a subscription to the print edition — which means they’ll get digital access for free — and will be willing to pay is relatively small. Based on the results of a recent survey, Business Insider estimated that “10 percent–20 percent of regular readers who are not print subscribers might sign up for unlimited online access.” But it’s one foot in the water, a step toward a new model.
Someone has to figure out how to make journalism profitable again, and if any entity can survive experimentation, it’s the Times. I’m not convinced that the paywall will work, and that people won’t just find a way around it, either by cutting back on their Times intake or by posting articles on other sites. But I’m curious to see how what the Wall Street Journal called, “the biggest test to date of consumers’ willingness to pay for news they’re accustomed to getting free,” will play out.
The aggregation model, i.e. the Huffington Post, is a clever way to make Internet journalism profitable, and as Gawker pointed out, their site is still free, but it’s not a long-term solution to the industry’s problem because, as Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said, “If everybody is an aggregator, nobody will be left to make real stuff to aggregate.” Fifteen dollars. That’s two–three drinks at a bar, one drunken cab ride home or one expensive lunch. I, for one, would rather give up one of those things each month than lose the in-depth global coverage that the Times provides. If we want them to fly reporters around the world and stay on the cutting edge, the money has to come from somewhere. I’d rather buy a cheaper lunch than read less comprehensive news.