It’s been clear for years now that the traditional printed newspaper is a dying institution, so venerable dailies have been hard at work attempting to cope with a digital world. The New York Times announced in January 2010 that it would eventually be devising a paywall which would balance the public’s right to know about major world events with the need to generate profit and keep the revered reporting organization running. Today the details on the digital version of the Times has been officially unveiled, and they manage to be both forward-thinking and reasonable while also showing hints of utter stupidity.
First up, online subscriptions will be free to print subscribers, so if you already get the Times delivered to your door every morning you now also have access to its digital counterpart. For those who don’t, subscriptions start at $15 a month for web and smartphone-enabled versions, and $20 for the web and table option. The Times is also providing a bit of free content as well, with users only being charged after they have accessed 20 articles in a single month. Thus, if you’re simply following a link sent to you by a friend or there’s a particular event you wish to keep tabs on you won’t have to wander into the world of paid content. The Top News section of the site will also remain free, so if you only care about the major headlines you won’t have to pony up for those articles either. Finally, if you come to a Times article through a link to another site you won’t be asked to pay, so those interested in an article with the Times as the original source will be be able to see the full article without paying.
This is all well and good but things start getting shady when you decide you want to enjoy the Times on both your tablet and smartphone. Instead of the tablet subscription also covering smartphones for $20 a month, you’ll have to opt for a $35 plan if you want access on all devices. That’s not even a discount for the bundle, you have to pay full price for both packages to get full access. The first defense of actions such as these is to say “Well, plenty of apps have iPhone and iPad versions you have to buy separately, so this is no different.” That’s not true though, as one-time purchases are a much different beast than recurring subscriptions, and asking users to pay $420 a year for the privilege to read the paper on mobile devices and tablets may prove to be too bitter a pill to swallow. While most of the Times’ paywall plan seems fair and just this is one area where they really dropped the ball. Here’s hoping they come to their senses and devise a better option, lest their efforts fizzle entirely.