The Times Announces Digital Subscription Plan – Review Of

By JEREMY W. PETERS

Currently, New York Times’ readers get free access to their website. As of March 28, visitors to the NYTimes.com can read up to 20 articles on month without a fee. Once they hit 21, they will have options: $15 every 4 weeks for website access and a mobile phone application; $20 for web access (4 weeks) and the iPad application; and $35 for the all-access plan.

If you currently subscribe to the NYTimes home delivery, you will have free and unlimited access to all Times’ digital platforms (except for Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook).

The obvious challenge is to begin charging for a service (over a certain amount of articles) that was free for all readers for many years. Of course, with the loss of advertising revenue over the last 5-10 years, this model will try to capture additional revenue to continue to provide excellent journalism to which readers are accustomed. At the same, the Times wants to maintain the current advertising business and continue to engage in the widest possible audience.

For years, newspaper companies have been offering Web access free in hopes that the online advertising market will look after their costs. But while online advertising has grown, it has not increased quickly enough to make up for the decline in traditional print advertising. Many publications have been looking at ways to make online consumers pay as they do for print.

According to the plan, there appears to be an obvious or intentional loophole to this new subscription plan. Readers will still be able to access the NYTimes.com via Google and social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. It will be interesting to see initially how many loyal listeners opt for the loophole and bypass the subscription plan. 

Not all visits to NYTimes.com will count toward the 20-article limit. In an effort to avoid deterring as many as possible of the Web site’s more than 30 million monthly readers, The Times will allow access to people who arrive at its Web site through search engines like Google and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. There will, however, be a five-article limit a day for people who visit the site from Google.

Image from Digitaldutch.com

Again, the big debate behind this new marketing channel is whether you can change consumer behavior from the last 15 years and create a revenue stream from online subscriptions and at the same time, not adversely affecting the other revenue areas. Many media consultants are doubtful that this can be accomplished.

Essentially, this subscription model will attempt to rely on a small amount of very engaged readers who will be willing to pay. Many of whom will have to be loyal to their brand to sign up for this plan. This is less about a high volume of page views and more about those engaged readers who see so much value in the content that they’ll be willing to pay for it.

Because of the loss of advertising revenue in the print newspaper business, many other newspapers are adopting or thinking of adopting this approach. Some call it “freemium” where you get a certain amount of value every month before you have to pay for it. Some of these papers allow between 5 and 20 articles to be viewed per month before readers will need to subscribe at fees between $3.95 and $10.95 for further reading.

It will also be interesting to see how the company will gather data and analytics after 2-4 months or so to help determine the effectiveness of the plan. How many readers eventually opt for the mobile phone app plan of $15 every 4 weeks? How many choose the $20 package provides access through their iPad or the all-access plan for $35 per month? How many try to use the loophole through Facebook or Google to avoid the subscription fee? Or, how many readers are casual online viewers or who are fickle and for whatever reason balk at the idea of paying a fee to read online content?

I suspect time will tell at the effectiveness of such a program…What are your thoughts?

Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.

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