Having given the Internet public 15 years to get good and hooked on reading it free online (excepting the brief TimesSelect foray into partial online subscriptions), the New York Times will start charging for digital access to its news March 28. (Except in Canada, where our lucky northern neighbors get to test out the pay system immediately.) The plan is a bit complex, but I’ll try to sum up:
* There will be a limit of 20 free nytimes.com articles a month; except for links from social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are evidently limitless. Visits from Google are limited to five a day [Update: other search engine links, however, are not limited]
* Prices: $15/month for website plus mobile-phone app; $20 for website plus “iPad” [sic; not "tablet"] app; $35 for website plus both
* Newspaper delivery subscribers get unlimited digital access free, except through the Kindle and Nook (where I live, the regular 7-day subscription rate is $11.70 a week)
Better financial brains than mine will crunch those numbers. My questions, for now:
* The plan seems to try to strike a balance (understandably so) between capturing money and losing the relevance of being the online world’s go-to paper, accomplished largely through linking. People will still be able to link articles on Facebook and Twitter, but this could be a disincentive for blogs to link to the Times.* As much as the Internet has hurt financially, it as also given the Times global reach and ubiquity. Will it lose that?
[Update: the Times article actually does not explicitly say that blog links will count toward the 20-article limit, unlike social-media links, but it doesn't mention any exemption for them, either. Regardless, any loss of links or online traffic could affect larger influence. Update 2: The Times' new subscription information online—though not the Times article itself—says blog links are still free. Sort of. A link from a blog—or a social-media site—will count toward your 20 free articles; but if you've hit your 20-article limit, you can still access the Times through one of those links. Got it?]
* Dollars and cents: I really don’t understand the notion of offering no discount to read the Times on both a mobile phone and the iPad. I would suspect that, faced with $35 a pop, most would choose one or the other. Why not try a discouned rate ($25? $30?) to get a little more dual-device participation?
* There’s little information (as yet) on plans for shared household subscriptions. When I subscribe to the paper Times, my wife and I can divvy up sections to take on the train or pass around the table. I’ve got to imagine the technology exists to share access; how much will the Times want to allow it?
* Most important—maybe the only real question: Will you pay for it? Let me know in the comments. It won’t cost you a dime!