“Mr. Sulzberger, Tear Down That (Pay) Wall.”

It worked for President Reagan, however I suspect my plea to the New York Times Publisher will go unheeded, although I understand why. Here’s the background on the recent New York Times announcement about their new digital pay wall: To no one’s surprise, last week the New York Times announced a digital subscription plan that will require monthly subscription for digital access. The plan will go into effect next Monday March 28th and will require those who access 20 or more articles a month on the web to have a subscription costing $15 for 4-weeks ($195 per year). That cost will cover web and smart phone app access. There will be additional costs for an iPad app as well. Those with current print subscriptions will not have to pay for online access.

Do I like paying for what I’ve been accustomed to receiving for free? Does it take two to tango? Do woodchucks chuck wood? Have you been sleeping under a rock? Do I watch too many GEICO commercials?

Seriously, no one likes paying for something they’ve gotten previously for free. I certainly don’t like ATM fees and I remember when they were free. The question is whether the heaviest users of the Times digital product will now be willing to pay for access.

Here’s what New York Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Company had to say:

“A few years ago it was almost an article of faith that people would not pay for the content they accessed via the Web. This move is an investment in our future. It will allow us to develop new sources of revenue to support the continuation of our journalistic mission and digital innovation, while maintaining our large and growing audience to support our robust advertising business. And this system is our latest, and best, demonstration of where we believe the future of valued content — be it news, music, games or more — is going. The challenge now is to put a price on our work without walling ourselves off from the global network, to make sure we continue to engage with the widest possible audience.”

This move comes at a time when the newspaper industry continues to lose revenue. While the revenue of most media types has rebounded, the newspaper industry has not. According to the Newspaper Association of America, advertising revenue for American newspapers in 2010 (both digital and print) declined 6.3% to $25.8 billion, while overall ad spending increased more than 6% in 2010.

The $64,000 question (yes, I am showing my age) is how many users will pay for online access? No one knows for sure. The digital Times currently has a monthly audience of about 30 million readers, according to comScore. Of those, about 15% are considered the heaviest users.

Here’s an admission: I am a heavy digital Times user. The first thing I do every morning is get online and the first place I go is the New York Times. It remains an incredible newspaper with the best written, most in depth articles on virtually any topic. However, I do not buy the New York Times.

I know I am a Times “heavy user” since I must read 20 articles each day, and the cutoff to remain free is 20 per month. So I will be forced to pay if I want to continue to access the Times. However, I want to give props to Lincoln (the car people), who through an interesting promotion has offered me unlimited web access to the New York Times for the balance of the year. Thank you, Lincoln. This offer was not widespread and has targeted roughly 200,000 heavy users who are not print subscribers. Lincoln has bought a fan, though I do wish I liked their vehicles more.

So my New York Times financial day of reckoning will be postponed until January 2012. My hope is that someone else will come to my rescue then, but I’m not expecting this. And at that point, alas, I will pay.

But my advice to the newspaper industry is simple: Do not assume other newspapers will have any significant success trying a similar model. What the New York Times provides is valuable, insightful, well written and in-depth reporting. What most others provide is something far less, and available elsewhere at no cost. The newspaper industry has trained the public to expect the online news for free, and the availability of free online news of all types makes the ability to charge almost impossible. Except for the New York Times…..So I’ll grudgingly pony up for the digital plan, but only when I have to. And only for the New York Times.

Are you a Times heavy digital user? If so, what are you going to do?

Strumings note: When I launched Strumings in December 2009 I was concerned about how often I would publish and what I would say. However since I am approaching the 100th Struming, and have many readers (Thank you, I always appreciate your readership & feedback) and lots to say, I have decided to publish every Wednesday. So henceforth Wednesdays are now Prince Spaghetti Day and Strumings day. If you don’t get the Prince Spaghetti reference, look it up. It was a great campaign.

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  1. David Applegate says:

    I am in favor of any move that will keep the New York Times doing what it does better than any news source in the world — provide in depth coverage of and insight into the broadest range of topics possible. I liked to read the NY Times by the pool or at lunch so I was a print subscriber for many years. I finally had to cut back when the monthly subscription rate nosed above $70! The solution? I bought a Kindle – specifically so that I could easily take the NY Times with me everywhere and read it whenever and wherever I wanted. For $19.95 a month. I consider this an incredible deal – and I don’t have to read the ads! The NY Times is an incredible journalistic tradition and an indispensable source of knowledge and I am glad they are finally taking steps to ensure their long term viability!

  2. Lonny Strum says:

    Thanks for the feedback David, and hope all is well. Obviously the NY Times hopes others will feel the same way you do. I think they will have some success with the creation of a pay wall, but I don’t think other lesser papers will share in that success

  3. Larry Chrzan says:

    Journalism has taken a hit in the past decade with people expecting news reporting to be free. But I’m glad that the New York Times has taken the bold step of requiring users to pay for content. NYT is in the strong position of providing top quality content that they CAN charge for. And if I want that high quality content, I’ll pay for it. I’m an NYT print subscriber so I’ll get the online content too.

    I don’t work for free and don’t expect good journalists to do so either.

    There’s plenty of free stuff out there masquerading as news. You get what you pay for!

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