Monday, April 11, 2011

'On The News', the New York Times Paywall and Authority

'On the news' captures my feelings towards the New York Times, the paywall and digital pricing fairly well:

Moreover, the Times paywall does not map to my reading behavior. I don’t read a single source for the news—I read thousands. I consume the news from all directions—from venerable institutions like the Times, to blogs that obsess over particular topics, to tweets from witnesses, and every imaginable source in between. I want news that is the aggregate of all these sources, that admits all of these varying (and often contrary) perspectives. Erecting paywalls between these locations misunderstands the ecosystem that each story participates in. The value I find in the news today is in its connectedness—in the ways in which often divergent sources come together to create a story—not its solitary authority.

The Times response to this is a porous paywall—what some have called a pay “fence,” either disparagingly or encouragingly I cannot tell. But I find the rules around how many articles you can view (and under which conditions) far too convoluted for most people to parse. People—myself included—frequently part with their money on the web, but only when it’s easy. If iTunes has taught us anything, it’s that easy beats free. For the Times to have spent two years working on a payment mechanism and missed that lesson does not bode well.

Similarly, the high price of their subscriptions seems to stem from the assumption that they will be the sole paper anyone subscribes to; they have presumed their position as paper of record. But the very concept of a paper of record no longer fits: there can be no singular story in a system of communication as diverse as the internet. In fact, it would be irresponsible of me to get my news from just one source. I still can’t forgive the Times for their negligent coverage of WMDs in the lead up to the Iraq War; but more importantly, I can’t forgive all the people who read only the Times and assumed that was all they needed to know. The world we live in is far too complicated, and the consequences of these decisions far too great, to trust the news from a single institution—even one as routinely great as the Times.

For me, the New York Times' value and authority comes from being widely read and cited, and anything it does to reduce the likelyhood of being widely read and cited reduces its authority and value. I do understand that newspapers are not free to run, and I do think people will pay to get something they value easily. The New York Times could be taking advantage of digital delivery to ensure that it has wider-than-ever reach, capture a smaller-than-ever fee, and become more profitable than ever. Instead, it's making moves to ensure that it shrinks, becomes less relevant, less part of the hyperlinked, social culture of information transfer, and fades away, a relic of the 20th century.

/via @marcoarment on

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