POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled (The Days of This Society is Numbered), 2009, acrylic and newspaper on linen, 88 1/4 x 72 1/8 inches, Gavin Brown Enterprises Frieze Fair.
The New York Times says we’ve got a year of free website use before they put it behind a pay wall. They should probably be doing this — it costs far more than they make in online advertising to run the paper so they need additional revenue — but I can’t say I’m without reservation. Pay walls have the positive effect of weeding out the garbage web traffic worth little in advertising dollars anyway, but a metered approach offering “users free access to a set number of articles per month and then charge users once they exceed that number” will almost inevitably alienate regular readers as well. Certainly if they want bloggers, Tweeters, and Facebook users to continue to link to their site, they’re going to have to create a system that all readers are willing to pay for and that competes with comparable free content. Almost no amount of pay wall customization will jump that hurdle.
There are some strategies worth discussing though, particularly given that The Times is taking a year to develop their program. For example, if we’re looking at the construction of a plan mimicking New York State’s EZ Pass tolls systems — one that charges users at the end of each month, as opposed to each time they land on selected content — I doubt it would have too much effect on what I read. My mobility on the web won’t be effected, and if as blogger Felix Salmon suggests, the bill comes through an accounts like iTunes or Amazon, we’ll simply have another charge on a pre-existing account. Like the EZ Pass, The Times might also charge users differently depending on use, occupation and location. For example, waving international IP charges altogether might be a good idea, given that New York-based news simply won’t be worth the cost for most of these users. David Carr suggests the rates could be also adjusted based on advertising revenues, which is undoubtedly one of the worst ideas I’ve seen tabled. What reader wants to be financially tied to the business concerns of a paper?
We’ll have a better picture of The Times pay wall as they develop and release details, but I’d like to make the following point clear, should anyone at the paper be listening: If I’m confronted with an obstructive, indiscriminate pay wall that charges me for small article stubs and blogs, I’ll be shopping somewhere else.