I’ve been getting a complimentary digital subscription to The New York Times since it launched its new paywall in March, but I just got an email from the company telling me that it’s time to start paying. I’m ready to, but not because of how the subscription is set up.
The plan has gotten a lot of skepticism since it launched in March because of its unusual porousness and complexity. Users can still access up to 20 articles for free every four weeks before having to pay, but some of its blogs and other content are outside the paywall. And people who come to any articles through searches, social media and blogs will still be able to read those article regardless of the monthly limit (so there are all sorts of ways to beat the system and get in for free, like altering the URL).
Today’s form letter, signed by a marketing executive for the company, doesn’t do much to make me more excited about how the Times is going about charging. It uses the tried-and-true print subscription tactic that you’ve seen newspapers and magazines use for decades. “Continue your unlimited access and pay 99¢ for your first 8 weeks,” the email exclaims.
After that point, the cost goes up $3.75 a week for the basic access plan. It includes the web and a mobile app, but not tablets and other features, which you’ll have to pay more for. A yearly cost for the base plan comes out to $195. It’s on the high end of digital subscription costs, although a little lower than what its rival, The Wall Street Journal, currently offers.
So, the Times still should figure out a simpler payment model for users. The digital plan just feels old-school in an era of single-tier subscriptions, one-off payments for digital content, and apps that you install for only an initial fee.
But the results so far have actually been consistently decent. The company has announced a growing number of subscribers in its last two earnings calls since the paywall went up, plus a big score with its Cyber Monday discount offer.
Why? I suspect people are paying for the same reason that I plan to, and no, it’s not because of the mobile app or because of the instant access to paywall-protected content.
It’s because we like the Times, and we want to support it. More like why so many people donate to National Public Radio. I believe in the quality of work that the paper does, and I think it’s important that it continue. I would probably pay even if the plan was more confusing, or a little more expensive. And if the Times accepted voluntary donations like NPR, I’d probably do that instead.
Here’s the email I got today:
[Top image via Wired.]