The New York Times metered access plan

new york times building

(Photo by Alex Torrenegra)

Summary of my view: It’s a great idea, but executing it properly will be extremely difficult.

If you didn’t hear – The New York Times is going to “meter” access to their site. Readers will be able to view a certain number of articles per month for free, after which they’ll have to pay.

I didn’t even know about the Financial Times meter before last week when I first read rumors about the NYT takes the same approach. I occasionally read articles at FT, and have occasionally linked to articles there. Their meter gives me no trouble.

That unobtrusiveness may come at a price. It took me only one Google search to find a way to circumvent their meter – this Greasemonkey script. Apparently, they just use cookies to determine the number of articles you’ve viewed. I’m not sure how many of FT’s paying customers are going to go through the trouble of installing Firefox extensions or manually deleting cookies to get access to the site, but I’d guess it would be more of a problem for the NYT’s larger and more general audience.

So that’s where execution gets tricky. Start making the meter more effective, less easy to route around, and you’re likely to end up making it a lot more intrusive to casual readers. There’s already something of a blogger backlash against the plan, and if the meter ends up being cumbersome, the Times could find their casual readership dropping off (and their advertising revenues declining).

And that’s to say nothing of people outright pirating their articles through copy and paste. If they start trying to implement means to keep people from copying and pasting the text from their articles, they risk alienating their customers even more.

So yes, it will be tricky to pull off. With a sufficiently generous meter (20 articles a month seems reasonable), affordable access rates (I’d be great if they also had some metered plans – say 50 articles a month for $5, instead of having to buy unlimited access), unobtrusive technology, and, of course, high quality content, they could have a winning business model on their hands. (I’d also encourage them to offer free unlimited access to libraries, schools, charities, etc., as well as to visitors from developing nations.) But it will be a hard balance to pull off, especially if NYT bigwigs push for tight security and restrictions.

See also: Paid content has a good look at the ends and out of it.

3 Comments

  1. In the past month, not counting the NYT article about its own plan linked above – I’ve linked to 2 NYT articles.

  2. Interesting:

    “If you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.” – http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/talk-to-the-times-answers-about-charging-online/?hp

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