So where does the TimesWall rank, on a scale of Picket Fence to Mighty Fortress? Somewhere in the middle: The wall will, as promised, allow for free access to the Times’ homepage as well as free side-door access (via outside links, etc.) to individual Times articles. In the metered-model manner of the Financial Times, you can gaze and graze freely each month until you hit (in the Times’ case) 20 articles. After which: Wall up. Pay up. (Or — maybe? — just hit up The Huffington Post.)
The Times has divided its payment offering into different (and more expensive than many had expected) packages: $15 for a month (actually, more specifically, for four weeks) of access to NYTimes.com and the paper’s smartphone app; $20 for web access and an iPad app; and $35 for an all-access plan. Multiply each of those by 13 to account for the 52 weeks in a year…and the yearly rates get hefty quickly. (Print subscribers, as the Times has said from the get-go, will get digital access included in their subscriptions. That’s true for any subscriber, 7-day-a-week or less — a nice reward for brand loyalty (not to mention a brand new selling point for the next Weekender commercial).)
As for the “pores” in the paywall: They’re there, but they’re not as large as we’d initially thought. While the paper “will allow access to people who visit through search engines like Google and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter,” the Times notes — meaning that, if I link to a Times article, and you click the link, you can view it in its entirety — there’s a big caveat: The articles you can access via Google will be limited to five a day. Which has significant implications not only for news consumers in a networked environment, but also for news producers.
None of those details are surprising. (Other than the prices, which, wow.) In fact, they are — in their general attempt to balance loyal consumers with casual, subscription revenue with ad, open web with walled garden — about what we’ve been expecting since “the metered model” became the Times’ official strategy last January. But it’s nice to know the details so we media-watchers can move our collective obsession from the paywall’s launch date to the much more important aspect of it: its data. Do people care enough about the Times, as a brand, to pay for content that they can generally get somewhere else? Given the myriad side-door options for article entry, do they care enough about convenience to pay a premium for a friction-free news experience? Are you going to subscribe? (Let us know in the comments.)
It’ll be interesting to see how users react to a suddenly-not-free New York Times — because, of course, the paper’s paywall isn’t just a meter but a metaphor. As Times opinionator Robert Wright put it in a column discussing the just-announced model last year: “Salvation (for Newspapers) Is at Hand.” So: Will the wall bring salvation for a biz-model-challenged paper — and, by extension, industry? Or will it go the way of TimesSelect, sacrificing traffic and and revenue and prestige in the process?
The answer will come, as in so many other aspects of contemporary journalism, from the readers. For today, though, the details are big news — about as big as you can get in our little corner of the world — and we’ll have more coverage of them coming up later today. Meanwhile, as you ponder whether to hand over your credit card to the Times’ jaunty hat-tipper, here are some of our past takes on the TimesWall and its consequences: