A Paywall for the New York Times

| March 28, 2011

Beginning today, the New York Times is implementing a “paywall“: No longer will the content at NYTimes.com be free for unlimited use. Here’s the official announcement made by the NYT on March 17th.

Opinion on this issue has varied widely. The new paywall was very quickly criticized by a variety of interested parties, including a very widely-read author who implies that it is outright “crazy,” for a variety of reasons. However, others defend this move, arguing that in-depth investigative reporting is costly and that readers must do their part to keep it financially viable.

In any case, many of those on both sides of the issue can agree that the rules for digital subscriptions are unduly complicated, and exceedingly easily circumvented. It’s surprising that such an illustrious organization as the NYT would release a system with these negative characteristics.

I remain conflicted on the matter. On the one hand, of course quality reporting costs money, and the NYT has got to get it from somewhere. Very many people would be worse off if the NYT went out of business, and the content they produce is rightfully theirs to distribute however the organization sees fit. So there’s probably nothing morally wrong with making content available to paid subscribers only. However, it could still be quite imprudent for the NYT to take this path: they’ve upset and confused much of their readership, many members of which have been regularly sharing NYT content widely on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Whatever profits the NYT does manage to wring out of their paywall are likely smaller than the pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs associated with it.