My long-standing argument against paying for the New York Times online has been to point out the number of holes in their paywall. These holes were designed to allow traffic from blogs and social networking websites but also have the effect of providing lots of ways around the paywall. If the Times wants to allow traffic from other websites but force regular readers to pay, then I was going to keep using the exploits.
But now the paper has begun fixing a wide array of paywall holes. No more opening the article in a new tab or window; the paywall is still there. And no more changing the URL; the paywall still kicks in no matter how many times you refresh. The nyclean bookmarklet still works, at least in my most recent testing, but it won’t take much code to stop that one too. Clearing cookies still works too, but the Times could simply require all users log in if accessing articles from the website. If articles viewed is tied to user account, rather than cookies, that trick will be gone as well. So, is it time to start paying for the New York Times online?
The answer remains no, and it remains that way for two simple reasons. First, paying for online access does not get rid of ads on the website. If I am paying for content, then I just want that content. In a paper newspaper, ads have always been present along with the content, because at one time, newspapers were a big business. Papers didn’t need to run ads because newspapers were sold for money. Ads are simply a capitalistic enterprise, and this accounts for the “newspaper barons” of the early 20th century. On a website, it is easy to remove ads, and the New York Times should do this for paying subscribers.
Second, the New York Times retains a bizarre pricing structure, whereby you pay 1 price to access the website and additional money to use the New York Times apps for iPhone OR iPad, and even more to use both. There is no reasonable justification for this pricing structure. Accessing the Times across all platforms costs over $8 per week, or about $420 per year. Want to access it online and on a smartphone? The cost is about $200 per year. Here’s where it gets really weird: if you want to access the content online or on a tablet app, it’s more, around $260 per year. Why does reading on an iPad compared to an iPhone cost an extra $5 per month? The reasoning doesn’t show up in the Times‘ marketing of online subscriptions.
Newspapers are expensive to run, there is no doubt about it. But newspapers as part of multimedia conglomerates, traded publicly, and bent on making a profit do not deserve our pity. That’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate them and embrace their work within our capitalist marketplace. I applaud profit and growth! But I also aim to work in my own self-interest. A paywall that has holes will always be a paywall I exploit. Sorry, New York Times, but your patching won’t make me pay up this time.