3…2…1…and…welcome to the apocalypse.
The New York Times, that stalwart of newspaper publishing, has decided to put a paywall up around its content. No longer will readers be able to freely and fully access all the articles they want, anytime they want, starting this month. It's been a long time coming, but a paywall was really inevitable.
There have been various concepts put forth over the years for how publishers like The New York Times would make money from their content. Certainly advertising has been a significant source of revenue, but really there was no way that content as expensive to create as the type of high-quality reporting from The New York Times would remain free forever.
The good news, however, is that this paywall is pretty forgiving. It's the sort of paywall that a publisher who is deeply aware of the way that online networks have changed the ways in which people keep up with what's going on and find interesting news to read.
The Details of the Wall
The NYT paywall isn't a complete block against anyone who isn't coughing up cash. In fact, the content on the site is still extremely accessible. Here are a few details from ClickZ's write up of the announcement of the paywall:
What's more, the NYT has specifically allowed expanded access to news content that comes into a person's daily lives through either search or social media. That is, if you find a NYT article as a part of a search, you won't have to pay for access, even if you've already hit your monthly limit for articles (although there is a limit for Google). I suppose this could be a loophole someone may exploit. If I have a friend paying for access, I could potentially have him tweet a bunch of articles to me every day. Or, we could see people making Facebook requests to have an article shared with them. But this would seem unlikely to be sustained, and NYT probably could cut this new-aged paperboy off.
Paywalls Create Good Neighbors
If you've followed online content over the last several years, you know that this was not an easy decision for the NYT to make, and that this move is most likely going to prompt a lot of other publications to start charging for their content, at least in some way and under some scheme. This is finally a move that points to the maturity of digital content, and that’s a good thing for advertisers as well for two reasons:
I'm sure there will be some dissenters about the coming of paywalls. There are plenty of people out there who believe that content should be free and that if someone charges for something, they will be able to find a free alternative without too much issue. That opinion is destined to be a relic of a previous era of online content. Today, we are seeing more focus on creating great content from real producers, especially for the iPad and other tablets, which means that paywalls are going to stay.
In fact, we need to get around the concept that this is a "wall," which means that it is a block to access. Instead, we should begin to talk about portals or pathways, because it is clear that a grown-up approach to content and to the creation of content is only going to make the online experience better.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT