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The New York Times – Charging for Free Content

By Brian | April 2, 2011 | Share on Facebook

In case you haven’t read about it yet, the New York Times changed their online access policy, by offering what they’re calling digital subscriptions. Here’s how it works:

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and other features on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to NYTimes.com.

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access to 20 articles (including slide shows, videos and other features) each month. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber. On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to the other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

So, twenty articles per month for free, after which you have to pay to read. But wait, there are a couple of small caveats:

• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search engines, blogs and social media will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. This allows new and casual readers to continue to discover our content on the open Web. On all major search engines, users will have a daily limit on free links to Times articles.

• The home page at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

This is because the New York Times sells advertising on its web pages, and if people can’t link through to their articles, then they can’t charge as much for their advertising. And since the vast majority of people who read the news online link to individual articles, either through social media sites, news aggregators or search engine results (as opposed to clicking on every article on the Times’ homepage like it were a physical newspaper), preventing users from reading NYTimes articles when they click on those links would drastically reduce the articles’ pageviews.

So, why do I mention this? Well, as I did before when the Wall Street Journal tried this ridiculous scheme, I figured I’d offer, as a public service, a very quick and easy way to read New York Times articles online for free, even if you go over their prescribed monthly limit. To wit:

A couple of other points:

When I tested this just now, I noticed that the URL for the original article was:


and the URL provided by Google was:


Can it be as simple as removing the “?hp” from the URL to get to the article in the first place? I doubt it, but since I haven’t passed my monthly limit on NYTimes articles this month yet, I can’t test it. If anyone out there can confirm or deny this, post it in the comments of this post, OK?

Also, the NYTimes’ FAQ site for digital subscriptions boasts that if you read the same article twice in a given month, it won’t count against your limit of twenty. That would suggest that the NYTimes is tracking your individual reading habits, so it knows which articles you’ve read on a monthly basis. This is probably not a new practice, and is probably not used for anything other than enforcing their subscription rules, but given how sensitive the NYTimes is about topics like online privacy, I’m surprised they buried this information so deep in their FAQ file.

Anyway, I hope this little tutorial helps you to continue enjoying NYTimes content, right up until the point where their desperate attempts to cling to the old world of “news via subscription” ends with their dramatic and ultimate demise.

Topics: News and/or Media, Tech Talk | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “The New York Times – Charging for Free Content”

  1. Jeff Porten says at April 2nd, 2011 at 5:50 pm :
    Easier way to get free NYT content: turn off Javascript. From what I hear, the pages will sail right through.

    I completely fail to understand the NYT’s strategy here. For the last ten years or so, there have been two canonical references on the Internet: NYT for news, and Wikipedia for everything else. The NYT article is the default link that everyone uses when referencing something that’s happening nationally or internationally — and when those links stop working reliably, then someone else is going to step in as the canonical news link.

    So it seems to me that the Old Gray Lady *very* successfully managed to establish their old media brand in a completely different space — which presumably is how you maintain your future reputation. They’re throwing it away… why? I’m blown away that no one there seems to understand that they’re a monetary value to what they seem to be giving up.

  2. Brian says at April 3rd, 2011 at 11:30 am :
    Well, I’m not sure what makes you say the NYTimes and Wikipedia are the canonical references on the Internet. If anything, people are always cautioning against quoting Wikipedia. I usually use it for answers to trivia quesitons. If it’s anything more serious than that, I may look at the source documents at the bottom more than the article itself.

    As for the New York Times, the canonical source for actual news has long become, for me, whichever source pops up first in my Google search, my news aggergator or my Facebook wall. If it’s a controversial topic, I’ll likely read two sources (if it’s politics, I’ll likely read Fox News and MSNBC, or maybe Fox & the NYTimes, for opposing perspectives). But to say one site is the canonical source for news these days? I think that’s pushing it…

    More to the point, the New York Times can not afford to be the canonical source of anything if it keeps shrinking. While it has moved online with impressive speed, it hasn’t monetized the move. Here’s the New York Times on its own circulation declines: 2.1% industry average (NYTimes not specified) in 2007, 3.6% in 2008, and 7.3% in 2009. In 2010, weekday circulation leveled off, while Sunday circulation continued to fall (5.2%), and the industry was still bleeding at almost 9%. And all of this while the Times continues to raise its prices and its revenue continues to fall. It’s managed to stay profitable by selling off some of its investments and shutting down some operations, but that’s obviously not a sustainable model.

    At the end of the day, they’re still thinking like newspaper people, not news people. Theirs is a volume business, but it’s no longer about volume of subscriptions, it’s about volume of pageviews. It’s advertising micropayments multipled by tens of millions of views. It’s premium content that people will pay for because it’s differentiated from what they can see/read in their social media feeds and search results. It’s putting their considerable talent and their unique access to primary sources to work to produce something that no one else can produce. This is why Huffington Post is on its way up and the New York Times is on its way down. HuffPo isn’t stymied by the need to hold on to a vision of former glory.

  3. Mike says at April 3rd, 2011 at 4:34 pm :
    Brian, good tips to work around the pay wall. My approach: pay the $3.15 per week for Sat and Sun delivery. The (old-fashioned) coupons included usually more than make up for the cost of the paper, you get the quaint-but-still- satisfying ability to read the actual paper when you want to, and the NYT magazine, etc. …. and yes, read unlimited digital offline on the iPod Touch app and on the web online. (Actually, they run promotions like the one I’m now where I pay less than $3.15 a week for Fri, Sat, and Sun delivery.)

  4. Suzanne says at April 4th, 2011 at 9:53 am :
    Brian, I think their scheme for monetizing the online business is a little more clever than you realize. I’ve been a Times “registered user” for quite a while. I got an email last week, sponsored by Lincoln (the car company), offering me a free digital subscription for the rest of the year just for registering via their email. The email claimed that I’m a long time reader who views lots of different content (true), which they apparently value. I suspect you’ll see lots of these offers, which are generating ad revenue for the Times and encouraging me to read more so they can track my habits and create targeted advertising, for which they can charge more. Skip the referral site gymnastics and find yourself a deal for free access.

    I do think the subscription prices are ridiculous. If they really want people to pay, it needs to be cheaper – more like 50 cents a week.

  5. Brian says at April 4th, 2011 at 11:49 pm :
    @Suzanne: That’s not clever, it’s just fancy accounting. In this model, Lincoln is paying your subscription fee to the NYTimes to make you feel better about Lincoln. For the vast majority of the web’s content providers, Lincoln would pay the content provider advertising dollars and the provider would show you a Lincoln ad when you looked at the content for free.

    So all they’ve really done is relabeled advertising dollars as “subscription dollars,” because whoever runs the NYTimes believes that subscriptions is the metric by which you measure a newspaper’s success.

    I feel like pointing out to them that the last newspaper in America will ultimately have 100% of the market share. Quite a dubious honor to be sure…


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