A year after launching its closely watched paywall, The New York Times is claiming nearly half a million subscribers to its various digital editions while making it harder for nonsubscribers to read its online content for free.
When it was first introduced, the paywall was criticized as being too easy to jump. The paper itself said only a small slice of users would be affected, and one could get online access for the low price of a subscription to the Sunday edition (a tactic designed to protect the lucrative print franchise).
But now, the Times said that starting in April, it would halve to 10 the number of articles users can read per month for free. At the same time, the paper has been trying to entice people to become paid users by developing subscriber-only products. In the latest example, the Times said it would let subscribers gift a 12-week digital sub to a nonsubscriber.
Other than that, the Times paywall is largely unchanged; people will continue to be able to access unlimited articles through search, blogs and social networks, which ensures the Times doesn’t miss out on the benefit of social media as a traffic driver. The pay model is still designed to keep people buying the ad-rich print edition, which is still a large, if declining, source of revenue for the company.
The Times’ paywall was the newspaper industry’s most prominent digital paid content experiment, but the rest of the industry has come a long way in the past year. Some 150 small- to medium-sized dailies have erected some form of an online pay plan, with varying degrees of success, according to the State of the News Media 2012, the new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
It’s unclear if all those will match the success of the Times since those papers don’t share the Times’ high-quality content and rich demographics. Indeed, the loss of online ad revenue risked by walling off content remains a real fear, as other notable holdouts like The Washington Post and USA Today haven’t taken the leap.