More on The New York Times' Pay WallThe New York Times has made some clarifications regarding the announcement last week that it would institute a pay wall on its website in 2011. The paper had two of its top executives responding to questions from readers. Some of the questions were as simple and blunt as, “Why are you punishing your biggest fans?” and some were more involved.

Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, provided some answers on the paper’s Media Decoder blog with assistance from Martin A. Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations. (The responses still do not include specific information about pricing, however.) Robinson explained some lessons learned from TimesSelect, its earlier attempt at a pay model:

We learned, for example, that people will pay for content online, particularly for a robust package of high quality Times content. We also learned that you have to carefully weigh the benefits of an advertising and a subscription model. And we learned that many users believe what differentiates us is our journalism, the depth and breadth of our reporting and analysis. Also there have been many developments in the online space since we took down TimesSelect.

Robinson further clarified some other points:

  • There will be a number of techniques to ensure that people can’t get around the pay wall, and various ways to try to make the experience more personalized to make it more worthwhile for people to sign up for accounts. (No specifics were given on either of these topics.)
  • Although the The New York Times is using a metered model pay wall, that does not mean that payments will be made in increments. One flat fee per month or annually will grant unlimited web access. The metered model simply tracks the number of free articles a site visitor can read before requiring a subscription.
  • The flat fee subscription will include access to the paper’s archives.
  • A crossword subscription will probably not be included within the flat fee subscription to the rest of the online paper. Robinson does write, however, “[W]e will consider bundling them together for a discount.”
  • Kindle subscriptions and website subscriptions will not be bundled.
  • The New York Times does not worry that the pay wall will decrease its digital advertising revenue.

Robinson also reports that “a significant number of our best customers” are willing to pay the subscription fee. That’s a rather non-committal figure, and other sources aren’t quite in agreement about how many people will actually be willing to pay. According to results of a Harris Interactive survey last year, only five percent of readers would choose to pay a subscription fee in order to keep reading news at their favorite site. Nearly 75 percent would simply switch to a free alternative.

Perhaps the biggest revelation provided by Robinson is in regards to incoming links from other sites. She writes, “If you are coming to from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.” CBS News has an interesting article that analyzes the monetary figures behind The New York Times‘ decision by using figures from The Washington Post. The article’s authors, Jean-Louis Gassée and Frederic Filloux, conclude that “a carefully set up paywall significantly increases revenue as long as: it doesn’t discourage linking from other sites (preservation of the page rank); it targets only the heaviest users; those willing to pay $6 rather than $2 per month, and those ready to be charged for ad-free content on mobile.”

It sounds like it could work out for The New York Times. Of course, there are many detractors. Media Bistro’s FishbowlNY blog reports that The Guardian‘s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger criticized the pay wall decision and is against privatizing online content in general. Rusbridger said, “If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world.” As FishbowlNY points out, though, that won’t pay the salaries of a publication’s employees.

SOURCE: “Talk to The Times: Answers About Charging Online,” The New York Times, 01/21/10
SOURCE: “The Guardian‘s Editor Swipes At Pay Walls, Murdoch,” FishbowlNY, 01/26/10
SOURCE: “Behind the NY Times Pay Wall,” CBS News, 01/25/10
SOURCE: “Only 5% of web users would pay for online news, reports survey,” The Guardian, 09/21/09
Image by William Warby on Flickr, used under its Creative Commons license.

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