The New York Times office. Photo by eflon
The New York Times paywall is so leaky that cracking it is easier than subscribing to it. To crack a URL like nytimes.com/2011/03/31/world/asia/31taliban.html?hp&gw[etc] I just need to remove the question mark and everything after it. In my web browser. I literally select some text with my mouse and hit delete. Alternately, this NYTClean bookmarklet does it with one click. I have no idea how long subscribing takes, but it seems complicated. Either the NYTimes thinks I’m really dumb or they think I’m really smart and are letting me in on the sly. Either way, I don’t get how this makes sense.
What I find a bit shocking is that this paywall cost $40 million dollars to implement. For that amount they could have presumably improved the product such that I would want to buy it other than putting a leaky fence around a product I’m used to getting for free. This is not to say that I wouldn’t like to pay for the New York Times. I actually wouldn’t mind. It’s not a charity gesture, however, give me something to buy.
There are two reasons to pay for something. Well, one really, but two flow out of it. The one reason is because you have to. The reasons that flow out of that are because you really have to and the other is because you have to and you want to. For example, at McDonald’s if you don’t pay they don’t give you food. At a restaurant you get food and pay after.
Online, people don’t really use the second model. Online I pay for a few things, I pay for extra storage on GMail, I pay for a music subscription at last.fm and I pay for WordPress Themes. These are things I cannot get any other way. If I don’t pay a bit more for GMail I have to delete mail, if I don’t pay for last.fm I can’t get customized radio. If I don’t pay for WordPress themes I have to spend time fixing up free ones. I think this model works, under a few conditions.
First off, they give me something better than I’m used to getting for free. They also save me time, which I’m willing to exchange for money. GMail gives me a shit ton of storage for free, but when I forward work mail and stuff it’s actually not enough. The paid option gives me untold gigabytes so I’m happy to buy. It saves me time in that I don’t have to pile through emails to delete them. Last.fm learns the music I like and plays customized radio. This spares me having to download and curate my iTunes collection, a time saving service that I’m willing to pay for. WordPress Premium Themes are insanely sophisticated by now and save me hours of development time, months in some cases. They also make me look like a genius to clients, and help me make money. Definitely worth a buy.
The NYTimes paywall, however, offers me the same thing as the old free product and actually asks me for time to figure it out and register and keep logging in across various computers and devices. It’s actually crappier than the free product and more of a burden on my time. This would be a possible model if they secured it, ie, forced me to pay. The Times, however, doesn’t. It makes it easier for me to not pay (select/delete) and makes themselves look stupid in the process.
One thought is that they think I’m going to crack it anyway and are letting me in. That the paywall is only for old people who don’t know what a URL is. That’s a bit of a weak business model, however, appealing to ignorance rather than reason. I am willing to pay. Just give me something extra to pay for and save me a bit of time.
For example, spend 40 million dollars integrating with Twitter and Facebook to provide me a social frontpage. Or apply some algorithms to figure out what I’m reading and recommend more stuff that I’d be interested in. Something that saves me time and makes me happy I’ll pay for. Incorporate social networking so anyone that doesn’t pay publicly look like an asshole, like someone who doesn’t tip at a restaurant. Spend 40$ million dollars making your site a bit cooler and then spend 15 minutes putting some decent access control with a fucking .htaccess text file, whatever.Reduce speeds for people that don’t pay, whatever.
You can either delight me into paying or force me to, but the NYTimes is doing neither. The end result is select, delete not because I’m a cheat but because they’re not even trying to make a sale.