Monday, March 28, 2011

NYT paywall goes live; while readers look for ways around the wall, the company offers one way to avoid paying

Is a paywall really a paywall if most readers don't see it? And is a paywall really a paywall when the company offers its own way around paying for access? We will begin to get answers soon as the NYT closes the door, metaphorically, starting at 2pm ET today.

For some 200,000 heavy readers of the New York Times website, the first breach in the wall came with a banner ad from Lincoln which offered free access to the newspaper's website and smartphone access free for the rest of 2011. (TNM quickly signed up.) It was a clear sign that the publisher, or at least the ad people, see the paywall as a marketing opportunity.
"We've been spending a lot of time with our media partners looking for ideas," Connie Fontaine, Lincoln marketing communications manager told AdAge last week. "Our brand is one that has a lot of great news and a lot to say but isn't always heard. The Times did bring us this idea and we thought it was really relevant to the brand for a lot of reasons. The type of reader we'll be able to engage through this program is a thought leader."

Whether the NYT continues letting advertising partners offer free access will probably be determined by the success the company has getting frequent readers to pay up. Call it Plan B, if you will. It is one of the reasons I am not 100 percent against the NYT experiment -- there is enough wiggle room in the plan to allow the publisher claim some level of success. After all, a cut in the price might spur buyers, using similar offers for advertisers is another approach. Or, it is possible that the plan will work as currently designed.

Or . . . it is possible that the New York Times will find that technology is always going to be one step ahead of them. After all, it took mere minutes for a few creative Canadian readers to come up with ways around the 20 article -- their paywall having been raised last week. Whether it is javascript removal plug-ins (no links, you'll have to do your own searches), of Twitter feeds, for many readers the paywall will simply be something to work one's way around.

Unfortunately for the Times, these young, tech savvy readers are precisely who they would like to reach, the perfect target audience for their advertisers (ignoring their propensity to avoid paying). They are not, as Arthur Sulzberger Jr. recently told an audience last week "mostly high-school kids and people who are out of work” -- a remark he quickly regretted saying.

Another target audience, though, may be more willing to pay: the same group of readers attracted to the WSJ, highly paid professionals who may consider the new price simply the cost of doing business (and who will then end up writing off this expense, making tax payers foot the bill).

The adventure begins today.

Next, will we see a new NYT iPad app today? Or at least an update?