The New York Times erected its long-awaited online paywall in late March. In theory, that means you can no longer read the Times online without paying a subscription fee of $195 to $455 a year.
But like America’s southern border, the Times’s wall is porous. “Visitors get 20 free articles…each calendar month on NYTimes.com,” the site explained. “In addition,” a Mashable.com report noted, “non-subscribers will have access to articles found through search (limited to five per day from major search engines), blogs and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, even if they have exceeded their 20-article reading limit.”
Mashable added: “The Times confirmed a report that it had dropped its case against @freeNYTimes, a Twitter feed designed to help readers circumvent the forthcoming paywall.” The Times says it objected to the site’s use of its logo, which has been removed.
The week of the paywall’s introduction, TheStreet.com reported that its readers had voted the plan the week’s “dumbest thing on Wall Street,” although the Times’s offices are actually on Eighth Avenue. But Times publisher Pinch Sulzberger was untroubled, according to TheStreet:
“Can people go around the system? The answer is yes. There are going to be ways,” Sulzberger said at an appearance at the Paley Center for Media. “Just as if you run down Sixth Avenue right now and you pass a newsstand and grab the paper and keep running you can actually get the Times free.” Oh, so we’re not savvy Web users, we’re all thieves.
“Is it going to be done by the kind of people who value the quality of the New York Times reporting and opinion and analysis? No,” he continued. “I don’t think so. It’ll be mostly high-school kids and people who are out of work.”
Just as illegal immigrants take jobs Americans won’t do, Times paywall-jumpers take articles Americans won’t read. And like immigration reformers, the Times had an amnesty plan, as the Wall Street Journal reported (in an article available online only to paid WSJ.com subscribers):
New York Times Co.’s efforts to charge readers to read online articles will get an early boost from one advertiser-Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln brand.
Lincoln, an existing advertiser with the New York Times, has targeted 200,000 heavy readers of the newspaper’s website with an offer to sponsor their digital subscription for 2011.
Lincoln won’t pay the actual subscription costs for those taking part, but the car maker will increase its online ad spending with the publisher. Details of the arrangement weren’t disclosed. Lincoln will make an online pitch for the free Times access to targeted customers through emails.
Lincoln and the Times expected some 100,000 subscribers to sign up for the nine-month freebie, whose retail value is approximately $150 a subscriber, or $15 million in total. (Disclosure: I received the Lincoln invitation by e-mail, immediately signed up for it, and subsequently got irritated that for days, redundant solicitations for the offer showed up each time I visited the Times website.)
On April 16, three weeks after the paywall went up, Greg Pollowitz of National Review reported he had found still more ways of defeating it:
First I discovered that you can simply switch browsers, i.e. from Firefox to IE, and the Times gives you another 20 articles to read. After I ran out of browsers, I just deleted my cookies and that seemed to reset the Times’s article counter….
And they want me to pay to read their content? Yeah, right.