Lots of media interest in the New York Times’ paywall, but nonjournalists are interested in this story too, judging from the regular questions I get about it from family and friends. Here’s a few of my answers.
- Yes, I think it’s a good thing. It’ll get people back into the habit of paying for what’s useful to their lives.
- No, I don’t think the Post is going to follow suit any time soon.
- No, the Times would be very happy if you’d sign up, but this system isn’t really aimed at you.
This last one usually leads to a surprised look and a question: “Not aimed at me?”
No. The meter is there for you, as well as the loopholes for Google News, social media, etc. But the Times is really using the paywall to draw in elite subscribers, those who rely heavily on the NYT’s authority and don’t care about how much access to that information will cost them.
If that reminds you of the Wall Street Journal’s attitude toward its online subscribers, that’s intentional. The Times wants the globally influential audience just as the Journal wants the financial influentially one. (There’d be a lot of crossover in that Venn diagram.)
Global influentials may not be a very big audience, especially compared to the 45 million or so unique visitors who visited the NYT before the wall. But this week’s numbers indicate there are enough of the elites that online subscriptions could end up paying for the entire cost of the newsroom.
Frederic Filloux wrote about this in March when the NYT unveiled its paywall. His crunching of the data showed that 540,000 digital subscribers at $20 a month would be enough, when combined with online advertising revenue, to pay the estimated $200 million that the Times’ news-gathering costs each year.
Those numbers might prove a little rosy, but even if the magic number is 600,000 subscribers, the NYT is well on its way toward hitting that mark, as this week’s announcement of 224,000 digital subscriptions shows.