New York Times set to begin digital subscription plan

By ALISON AGUDO

On March 28, 2011, The New York Times will be introducing its digital subscription plan that will require frequent readers of the Web site to pay $15 a month for content they previously got for free.

This somewhat sudden change of heart on behalf of The New York Times comes as surpise to those that had heard rumblings of the possibility, but argued that it would be pointless because who would pay for content when they could find it for free elsewhere? The The New York Times is gearing up to find out.

The The New York Times is the largest American newspaper to put its content behind a pay wall after previously allowing unrestricted access. Anyone who visits NYT.com can read up to 20 articles a month for free, but as soon as they click on their 21st article, a subscription page will be prompted and readers can decide whether they want to pay one of the three digital packages offered (which vary depending on how you use the NYT, online, mobile app, or both). If you already subscribe to the home delivery service the paper provides, however, you will have free and unlimited access across all of the NYT platforms.

This recent development begs the question that many have been asking for a while: is paying for content worth it if you can get the content for free elsewhere? The overall reason behind the new plan from the NYT’s perspective is of course revenue. It targets their loyal readers who read more than 20 articles a month but still provides free content for visitors who visit the site on a less frequent basis (the vast majority of the sites traffic). On the one hand, it’s understandable with newspapers losing money due to online access to content that someone had to come up with a solution (or possible solution) to the money issues, however for a newspaper of the NYT’s standing to be the first to make the move is quite interesting and potentially trend setting.

The NYT has said that the move to digital subscriptions will allow them to further develop their sources and obtain new sources of revenue so that they can continue to support their “journalistic mission and digital innovation” while maintaining their large and growing audience to support their advertisers.

If that is the underlying reason, it’s likely that other news sources won’t be far behind in following the subscription plan. However, because of the NYT’s standing in journalism, it’s likely they may benefit from this change more than a less frequented new source, so certain adjustments may have to be made if others plan on following suit.

The publisher of the NYT wrote a letter addressing the issue, which can be read here. It outlines their thinking and details the process including who this effects, how it effects those involved, and what the options are.

You can also visit their Digital Subscriptions and Premium Products Help site, which is located here to see a list of frequently asked questions and their answers related to the transition.

So the questions that continue to be asked as the first digital subscriptions for such a large newspaper begins: Would you pay for content? Does it depend on the source? What would be the factors that make you subscribe to one source versus another? The debate continues and it will be interesting to see how this turns out for the NYT as times goes on.

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