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So, then…if you jump The New York Times’ paywall, are you stealing?

James Poniewozik has a great column this week asking a question we’ve been talking about here at the Lab: Given all the ways to avoid paying for a New York Times digital subscription — ways that the Times has purposely built into the pores of its paywall, and ways that clever techies have figured out — is it immoral to jump the wall? To what extent, essentially, is gaming the Times also stealing from it?

As Poniewozik said: “Calling the Ethicist!” And, totally. But — we checked — current Ethicist Ariel Kaminer is also currently employed by the Times, and so is indisposed on meta-ethical grounds…and Randy Cohen politely declined my request for a comment. So, for a bit of amateur Ethicism — buckle your seatbelts, everyone! — here are a few points to add to Poniewozik’s.

A Times kind of person

Here’s how Martin Nisenholtz explained wall-jumping to Peter Kafka:

I think the majority of people are honest and care about great journalism and the New York Times. When you look at the research that we’ve done, tons of people actually say, “Jeez, we’ve felt sort of guilty getting this for free all these years. We actually want to step up and pay, because we know we’re supporting a valuable institution.” At the same time we want to make sure that we’re not being gamed, to the extent that we can be.

This “honest people” attitude — the presumption being that if you bypass the wall, you are not one of those people — is echoed by Nisenholtz’s colleagues. At a Paley Center breakfast last week, Arthur Sulzberger acknowledged that wall-jumping, by Times mandate and otherwise, would happen. But: “Is it going to be done by the kind of people who buy the quality news and opinion of the New York Times? We don’t think so.” (And also: “It’ll be mostly high school kids and people out of work.” And also! “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.”)

It’s familiar logic — the same kind of analog-economics-for-digital-content thinking that fuels all those “People! Don’t you realize that X months of The New York Times is just X Starbucks lattes?” comments. What it overlooks, though, is the very real possibility that, not just physically but economically, atoms have different properties than bits. Whether bits-based products involve different ethical considerations than their atoms-based counterparts is an open question — and, in fact, the question. But it’s one the Times is begging — and possibly forcing — with the ethiconomical (to coin a horrible, sorry, but possibly useful term) logic of its wall. The paper’s public establishment of a certain “kind of people” — a class who not only read the Times, but pay for it — is interesting for several reasons, one of them being its suggestion that there is also a “kind of people” (potentially adolescent, probably unemployed, and possibly morally bankrupt) who wouldn’t pay but would still consume Times content beyond the newspaper’s stated bounds.

But how fair, really, is that suggestion? Is deleting cookies or URL characters from a web browser directly akin to stealing a physical product from a newsstand? (And, then, is ad-blocking software immoral? Is reading Times content, for free, on someone else’s computer?)

Don’t steal steaks

In the physical world, property and the ethics surrounding it are straightforward things: Basically, do not take something for which you are being asked to pay money. There is a necessary lack of nuance in this: Even if that something is free somewhere — anywhere, everywhere — else, and even if the price being asked for it is ridiculous, if the something’s owner asks for money in exchange for it, your choice as a consumer is pretty much either to pay up or shut up. As CJR’s Lauren Kirchner put it, discussing Stewart Brand’s intersection with paid content, “No one would say ‘groceries want to be free’ and use that as an excuse to steal steaks. Or I guess some people might, but those people would be jerks, and also criminals.”

Definitely. But, then, the obvious obviousness of Don’t Steal Steaks is also contingent and contextual; it’s based on the fact that steaks are things. The ethical boundaries we take for granted in the physical world of commerce are generally based on actual boundaries: spacial distinctions that define ownership, separating permission from perfidy. So you can cart that steak all around Safeway if you want — but you won’t get arrested unless you take the steak outside without paying for it. As a matter of cultural consensus, in the context of the grocery store — and in the context of the grocery store’s analogs — it is the space itself, the “in” versus the “out,” that defines the acceptable against the un-. And it is the universality of that definition — the fact that it applies to and is known by pretty much everyone, pretty much implicitly — that makes “don’t steal steaks” so obvious. In it, the ethical and cultural and legal coalesce into one easy mandate.

But online, where space is as infinite as the human capacity to create it — and where your consumption of a Times article doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t get to read it — the conveniently clear line between moral acceptability and moral depravity no longer holds. There’s no obvious “inside”; there’s no obvious “outside.” And the web’s broad wall-lessness, ironically, enforces a barrier between “obtaining” something and “owning” it. In a digital environment where so much is accessible and so little is own-able, what exactly — ethically, legally, pragmatically — is yours? And what, exactly, is mine?

Owning atoms, owning bits

These are legal issues that are being wrestled with every day — and by, you know, actual experts. But, for our purposes, it’s worth noting the broad cultural context in which the Times wall has been erected. The Internet, after all, is still young (in terms of widespread adoption, it’s just a tad older than one of Sulzberger’s high school kids), and so are the communal values that help us navigate it. The web’s “wild west” element — its newness, its rawness, its up-from-nothing-ness — also suggests its lawlessness. Legally and culturally. We simply haven’t had time yet, in this bizarre new environment we find ourselves in, to reach consensus about what’s stealing and what’s not, about what’s owned and what’s not. We’re figuring it out, sure, day by day. But the offline ethical assumptions whose convenience and communality we take for granted are also, it’s worth remembering, the products of centuries’ worth of friction. Consensus takes time.

The Times is part of a long continuum in attempting to graft the ethical assumptions of the physical world onto the economy of the digital. The iTunes Store, for example — the platform whose essential genius was that made it easier for people to pay for digital content than to pirate it — framed its introduction in vaguely ethical terms, as well. (As Steve Jobs said at the time: “Consumers don’t want to be treated like criminals and artists don’t want their valuable work stolen. The iTunes Music Store offers a groundbreaking solution for both.”)

But what makes the Times’ paywall pitch so interesting is that it’s less about the interplay between ethics, economics, and convenience, and more about the interplay between ethics, economics, and the communal good. Essentially, the paper is trying to define the communal good as an economic good that is — boldness! — implicit in its product. (This is the logic that merges Times journalists being kidnapped in Libya with “the Times should be paid for.” Which is implying something, actually, fairly revolutionary: that the practice of journalism is, economically, part of the product of journalism.) That’s not simply a matter of the NPRization of the NYT (although that’s one element of it); more interestingly, I think, it’s a matter of the commodity of news collapsing into the creation of news. You’re not paying for the thing, the Times is saying; you’re paying for the process that creates the thing.

Image by like oh so zen used under a Creative Commons license.

                                   
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  • http://www.coffeehousetalks.com Andrew

    To riff on the steak analogy and bring it back to news consumption in the analog world, what is the ethical status of picking up a magazine off the rack and flipping through it in the store? You clearly can’t walk out with it, and any store owner will give you a free preview, but a lot of store owners would get upset if you started reading the thing cover to cover, even if you never left the store.

    You’d of course never be arrested for reading the magazine in store, but that’s just not done or you’re a “bad person.” Perhaps that’s a better analogy to jumping the paywall?

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  • http://profiles.google.com/phillytyper Mike McGettigan

    This is just a lot of Thinking 3.0.

    If you want the benefits of reading the New York Times, they’ve clearly defined what they need you to trade in money. If you don’t want those benefits, then don’t read the NYT. If you use a method to take their work for free, you’re stealing.

  • Anonymous

    As long as people across the planet have free access to the NYTimes, over or under, around or through the Pay-if-you-want-Wall, as I am doing, I have no problem with people paying to read it.

    I suspect though, that the NYTimes could have saved forty million dollars by letting those who want to give them money, do just that.

    It should be the right of all people everywhere to read the NYTimes.

    That’s how good it is.

  • Rhonda Roland Shearer

    You made an error in your aside: “(in terms of widespread adoption, it’s just a tad older than one of Sulzberger’s high school kids”)

    Arthur and Gail’s two children are long out of high school.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Joshua Benton

    Hi Rhonda: The reference wasn’t to Sulzberger’s actual children being in high school — it’s to his statement that “high school kids” would be among the few to try to evade the NYT paywall.

  • Rhonda Roland Shearer

    A reader is actually getting less but paying more in the Times pay wall BECAUSE THE USE is restricted. One purchase from a doctor’s office or hospital waiting room allowed, without penalty or social stigma, hundreds of readers.

    When I buy a NY Times, I can hand it to anyone to read or leave it in a bus or train waiting room and people reading the paper are not stealing. A newspaper is paid for once and then has a guilt-free life of its own for unlimited readers.

    Circulation figures traditionally accounted for this fact–there were always greater numbers of “readers” than numbers of “paid circulation.” Sharing will now be limited due to individual subscribers using personal devises (phone, iPad or computer).

    Those that pay and those that read what others pay for -are now, notably, fused in the Times new business model.

    ALL readers–not just paid circulation folks–must pay usage fees or “rent” for a viewing articles that can NOT be freely shared as before. Soon there will be a paradigm shift to little or no difference in circulation numbers between readership circulation and paid circulation.

    In other words, we pay more for less.

    Bottom line is : We no longer share in Times ownership–where we used to physically own issues of the Times with all its rights and privileges.

  • Bob

    I think a reasonable old-school analogy to jumping the Times’ paywall is sneaking into a movie theater.

    The theater owner clearly wants you to pay, but can’t always prevent you from getting in without paying.

    Generally your watching he movie for free does not prevent other paying customers from watching it (theaters only sell out very rarely).

    A further analogy is a drive-in theater (look it up on Wikipedia, kid). Back in the day, there was disagreement over whether it was unethical to sit outside the theater grounds and watch the screen…perhaps tuning-in to the sound on an AM radio.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Megan Garber

    That’s a really interesting point, Rhonda — especially because part of the way the Times has publicly framed its digital pay model is based on the notion of creating a community around the paper. (The idea of “the kind of people” who’d support it financially, etc.) The Times could have gone much further down that path, of course — treating payment not just as payment, but as NPR-style membership, with all its implications — but, still, it’s there. Subtly.

    One of the (to me) fascinating elements of the distinction between print ownership and digital ownership, such as it is, is just what you noted: the implications it holds for the communal elements of news consumption. A digital subscription itself, the way the Times and most other outfits have set it up, enforces an individualized relationship between the user and the news outlet: My monthly stats, my every-four-weeks payment, etc. Rather than, as you suggested, a more fuzzily communal interaction.

    I think the next step for the Times (and for others trying to make a go of paid digital content) will be to figure out how to bring community back to news consumption — how to re-fuse, essentially, the benefits of shared news onto news that is individually paid for. That could happen through gaming mechanics, through public displays of “membership” (badges and the like), through more social integration within news products, or through some awesome new mechanism yet to be dreamed up…but I think the individual-consumer-pays-for-individualized-content framework the Times has implemented is only a first step in a longer process that will, I hope, bring more community to the news, not less.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Megan Garber

    I like that analogy. To continue it, imagine that the store has posted a sign above its magazine rack that says, essentially, “We’re happy to have you read articles in the store, but you can only read three. After that, please buy the magazine.” (Yeah, it’d be long sign!) That’s not a straight analogy to the Times’ scheme, of course, for the obvious differences between news consumption online and in person…but you get the idea.

    Okay, so then imagine that you read four articles in the magazine before putting it back on the shelf.

    In doing that, you’re clearly doing something “wrong” according to the mandates the store has established…but are you also doing something Wrong, in the normative sense? Is your consumption of one more measly article — which (assuming there’s no line of impatient fellow-consumers at the mag rack) takes nothing from anyone, save for a few extra minutes of time from yourself — any different from your consumption of the three articles the store has established? To me, that’s the heart of the question here.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Megan Garber

    That’s a fantastic analogy, Bob, thanks. (Not only do I know what drive-in theaters are, I continue to harbor a hope that they’ll make a widespread comeback! It could happen, right…?)

    I’m curious: To your recollection, did people come to a consensus on the ethical-or-not question when it came to drive-ins? I’d be fascinated to learn more about those conversations.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Megan Garber

    That’s a fantastic analogy, Bob, thanks. (Not only do I know what drive-in theaters are, I continue to harbor a hope that they’ll make a widespread comeback! It could happen, right…?)

    I’m curious: To your recollection, did people come to a consensus on the ethical-or-not question when it came to drive-ins? I’d be fascinated to learn more about those conversations.

  • http://www.cjr.org Lauren Kirchner

    Very interesting discussion. I was using the steak comparison to try to bust a hole through the “info wants to be free” meme and emphasize that news articles are products, not just “information” – and that the creators of those products deserve to get paid. But I agree that the steak=newspaper comparison breaks down pretty quickly after that. I like Bob’s analogy to a movie theater much better.

    I also tend to believe that personal/societal ethics need not change as technology does. Napster and Limewire made it easy to download music without paying, but that didn’t mean that the artists who created that music are less deserving of compensation–it just made it easier for us to avoid having to compensate them. And just because it’s easier to “steal” experiences (like watching a movie, or reading the news) than it is to steal physical things–without much effort and without getting caught–doesn’t make that easier to justify, either.

  • http://www.coffeehousetalks.com Andrew

    “I also tend to believe that personal/societal ethics need not change as technology does.”

    I’m not entirely sure we can prevent a societal change as our roles as news consumer/producers has blurred, among other things the internet has brought about. It’s the societal change that, to a large degree, has put the newspapers in this financial mess in the first place, no?

    “Napster and Limewire made it easy to download music without paying, but that didn’t mean that the artists who created that music are less deserving of compensation–it just made it easier for us to avoid having to compensate them.”

    Agreed, but perhaps it means the labels that serve as middlemen are less deserving of compensation. Their role is distribution, primarily, so if we have free and better distribution technology, perhaps that industry should die out, and we can pay artists directly, making music cheaper while giving artists more money.

    The same might be true of news. As news has become more distributed and focused on the individual, perhaps we should be focusing on paying reporters rather than old-world newspapers that serve as middlemen for the reporters. That’s the inherent problem with making moral arguments about the paywall type systems – they’re self-preserving on behalf of old media outlets, but are we sure that’s in our interest in the first place?

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Megan Garber

    Those are great points, Lauren; thanks for the reply. I’m not sure I agree with the idea, though, that ethics are directly transferrable from one environment to another. It’d be awesome if they were — it’d make all of our lives a lot easier! — but, then, how-to-behave-in-a-given-situation is such a deeply contextual proposition that I don’t see how ethics couldn’t be affected when operating within new environs, if only a little.

    Take the pay/steal question. I agree that something being easier to steal online doesn’t at all justify stealing it — definitely wasn’t trying to argue that in the post! What I’m wondering, though, is what stealing actually is in this context. Offline, taking something without paying for it is both illegal and immoral; the former, because of the latter. And it’s immoral in large part because, from the communal perspective, you are essentially taking something from somebody else without compensating for the taking by putting another good — money, usually — back into the economy.

    So “don’t steal” is based on an ethics that’s based, in turn, on an economy of scarcity. Online, though, the sheer abundance of goods, and their lack of mutual exclusivity, changes — I think, anyway! — the dynamics of morality. If I game the Times’ system, I’m not taking anything explicit away from the Times or my fellow consumers; I am simply failing to give something to the Times. To me, that’s a significant distinction.

    Not that I’m planning on gaming the meter. As one myself, I agree — wholeheartedly! — that journalists deserve compensation for their work, just as musicians (and teachers, and doctors, and business executives) do. But payment, as a strict transactional thing, has never been about what workers deserve; it’s about what consumers in a given market are willing to pay for the products of those workers’ labors, intellectual or industrial or otherwise. Questions of desert definitely underscore and overlay and rise up around those transactions; but they’re not the substance of them. (Otherwise, investigative reporters would be working from palaces and Bob Parsons would be shining their shoes.)

    And — to belabor an already too-long reply, sorry! — we have, of course, infrastructures that help us navigate around the social problems baked into a market economy: Public education systems ensure that teachers get paid despite the fact that the “products” of their labors aren’t strict commodities; philanthropic organizations and occasionally governments step in to ensure that music and museums stick around to feed our souls; etc, etc. But those communally-minded institutions took centuries to develop. And online, we haven’t yet evolved their equivalents. We will, I’m confident; and efforts like Kickstarter and Kachingle and Spot.us and the like will be part of that. But those are experiments, not institutions. Right now, online, the market is all we have.

    And that’s what’s so interesting to me about what the Times is doing with its pay pitch: It’s trying (subtly, but still) to integrate broader communal ideas into the economic value proposition of its products. As I said in the post, the Times is essentially trying to bring the process of journalism — and with it, the idea that journalists deserve to be paid for their work — into the product of its journalism. That’s actually pretty revolutionary — largely because, as you said, news articles are products. Or at least that’s how they’ve been treated in the market. Up until, perhaps, now.

  • Tomhutch2

    I think that it’s more akin to trespassing that stealing. The NYT paywall, though, isn’t a very good fence. I think they need to put up a less porous fence (like the Wall St Journal) if they’re intending to keep people out and not just hang up a “no trespassing” sign. It’s silly to start ruminating about assigning ethical blame when the property owner is mostly at fault. We require backyard swimming pool owners to put up a locked fence to prevent access (otherwise they are guilty of Contributory Negligence).

  • Tomhutch2

    I think that it’s more akin to trespassing that stealing. The NYT paywall, though, isn’t a very good fence. I think they need to put up a less porous fence (like the Wall St Journal) if they’re intending to keep people out and not just hang up a “no trespassing” sign. It’s silly to start ruminating about assigning ethical blame when the property owner is mostly at fault. We require backyard swimming pool owners to put up a locked fence to prevent access (otherwise they are guilty of Contributory Negligence).

  • robin

    “…journalists deserve compensation for their work…”

    follow the established economic hierarchies: journalists *must* get paid by their employer. from there it is their employer’s responsibility to figure out how to bring in the money, i.e. to separate me from mine so you get what you worked for.

    which brings us to the nyt, which, to date, has not provided me with any reason to buy what they’re selling. there is no value added behind this meter apart from assuaging my guilt (which i don’t possess btw).

    seriously, what value are they adding to something that is infinitely available?

    and no, award winning journalism is not valuable in this sense. there’s nothing modern or forward about pulitzer prizes from 1976, there’s nothing modern about an old gatekeeper lashing out at users.

    they want my money? involve me, excite me, give me a reason to buy.

    as for this stealing trope, remember several years ago when certain boneheads went ballistic because adblock plus was “stealing” from honest hard-working peoples’ efforts to make money with a website?

    same deal here: it’s not stealing from the nyt when i block a javascript that **they** are trying to run on **my** computer.

    it’s not stealing if the nyt can’t figure out how to convince me to hand over my money to them. so sadly i do not fit their target market (despite having the nyt as the homepage on every computer since 1997):

    web-challenged, affluent and guilt-ridden.

  • robin

    “…journalists deserve compensation for their work…”

    follow the established economic hierarchies: journalists *must* get paid by their employer. from there it is their employer’s responsibility to figure out how to bring in the money, i.e. to separate me from mine so you get what you worked for.

    which brings us to the nyt, which, to date, has not provided me with any reason to buy what they’re selling. there is no value added behind this meter apart from assuaging my guilt (which i don’t possess btw).

    seriously, what value are they adding to something that is infinitely available?

    and no, award winning journalism is not valuable in this sense. there’s nothing modern or forward about pulitzer prizes from 1976, there’s nothing modern about an old gatekeeper lashing out at users.

    they want my money? involve me, excite me, give me a reason to buy.

    as for this stealing trope, remember several years ago when certain boneheads went ballistic because adblock plus was “stealing” from honest hard-working peoples’ efforts to make money with a website?

    same deal here: it’s not stealing from the nyt when i block a javascript that **they** are trying to run on **my** computer.

    it’s not stealing if the nyt can’t figure out how to convince me to hand over my money to them. so sadly i do not fit their target market (despite having the nyt as the homepage on every computer since 1997):

    web-challenged, affluent and guilt-ridden.

  • robin

    “…journalists deserve compensation for their work…”

    follow the established economic hierarchies: journalists *must* get paid by their employer. from there it is their employer’s responsibility to figure out how to bring in the money, i.e. to separate me from mine so you get what you worked for.

    which brings us to the nyt, which, to date, has not provided me with any reason to buy what they’re selling. there is no value added behind this meter apart from assuaging my guilt (which i don’t possess btw).

    seriously, what value are they adding to something that is infinitely available?

    and no, award winning journalism is not valuable in this sense. there’s nothing modern or forward about pulitzer prizes from 1976, there’s nothing modern about an old gatekeeper lashing out at users.

    they want my money? involve me, excite me, give me a reason to buy.

    as for this stealing trope, remember several years ago when certain boneheads went ballistic because adblock plus was “stealing” from honest hard-working peoples’ efforts to make money with a website?

    same deal here: it’s not stealing from the nyt when i block a javascript that **they** are trying to run on **my** computer.

    it’s not stealing if the nyt can’t figure out how to convince me to hand over my money to them. so sadly i do not fit their target market (despite having the nyt as the homepage on every computer since 1997):

    web-challenged, affluent and guilt-ridden.

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  • http://aburt.com Andrew Burt

    I personally prefer when media uses advertising to subsidize the cost of the process, but I can’t dispute that I’ve also written articles bemoaning that if local journalism doesn’t flourish we may see an uptick in local corruption. (Local journalism being the necessary tool to keep local politicians/etc. in check by shining the light on what they’re doing. cf. http://critique.org/hellocorruption.ht . Crowd-sourced and other kinds of unpaid/low paid journalists can probably handle shining the light on large scale entities, like the federal government, but at a small level it takes more research time, and protection from retribution, than might be available.) Now arguably the NYTimes is only a local paper for New Yorkers, and a national/international paper for those like me (living in Denver), so the argument doesn’t directly apply. I’d be more likely to pay for the local paper (and I am a paid Denver Post subscriber) for just that reason – I do want to support their ability to keep an eye on local government/etc. behavior.

    So to that extent I agree that — at a local level — one does need to pay for the process, not just the product. Indeed, it’s critical for a democracy that that process not just survive, but remain strong.

    I’m not planning to pay for the NYTimes, though, since there are other non-subscription-based options for national/international news (which, as I said, can be self-supporting via ad revenue because of their size, or replaced by crowd-sourced like anti-corruption watchers at a national level).

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  • Anonymous

    Speaking as a kid once both poor and obsessed with comic books, I can recall that prohibition against extended in-store was very much in force, at least in those antediluvian days.

  • Anonymous

    The Tacoma Rainers (AAA baseball) stadium has (or had, anyway) an area outside the park itself universally known as Tightwad Hill. Dozens of folks would picnic on the slope and watch the game for free. If it was on the radio, I guess they listened, too. As a very occasional patron, I wasn’t privy to the teams’ reasoning, but I’ll bet they figured leaving them alone was good for business. Those folks were unlikely to pay anyhow, and I for one would gladly pay for a seat back and unobstructed view.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, but there is scarcity at issue online as well. What’s scarce (and getting scarcer) is the energy and effort that assembled that information into a package demanding considerable investment (editors, designers, et al),

    How is this not obvious?

    There are lots of reasonable arguments about how or whether the link economy can support that effort, and there’s obviously a continuing question about whether people will judge the value-added is worth the price.

    But to argue the product isn’t scarce? That’s convenient for those who don’t want to pay, but that doesn’t make it persuasive.

  • http://www.cjr.org Lauren Kirchner

    Thanks Megan – I agree with a lot of what you are saying, especially the bit about the process being just as valuable as the product. But I do have to disagree with your one point that “don’t steal” is based on an economy of scarcity, and that “failing to give something” is morally different than “taking something away”. That is, I disagree that there is a distinction there at all – at least in this case. I guess I tend to think in more practical, less abstract terms about these things. For instance, in ethics – I think ethical decisions/actions are those that, if everyone in the world made those same choices, would lead to the best outcome.

    If you sneak into a movie, you may think, “little harm will come from this,” but that’s based on the assumption that most everyone else is following the rules and paying for movie tickets and supporting the business. Why is it wrong to sneak into a movie theater? Because although one person, or a couple people, sneaking in without paying, wouldn’t make much difference to a moviemaker/distributor/whoever….if *everyone* snuck in, and no one paid for movies anymore, then making movies would cease to be profitable, and moviemakers would quit making movies. And okay, maybe the moviemakers would learn to try to make money a different way before quitting altogether, like putting commercials in their movies every 5 minutes, and making product placement deals all over the place, etc., etc. But wouldn’t that be kind of awful?

    Right now, with the business set up the way it is, if you sneak in and watch a movie for free, your experience is being subsidized/paid for by other people who do pay for their tickets. You’re not “taking away” from their experience of the movie, but their admission ticket is paying for your experience, and that’s not a scalable system, and it’s not fair.

    I don’t know if this is really the perfect analogy, either. This is such a complicated issue, and I have been accused of being a bit strict, ethically. But I just think that we might be overthinking this whole thing, and that scarcity & ownership & physical vs. virtual products & products vs. experiences might just be so many red herrings. If the Times says, ok, this used to be free, but now it is not, then we kind of just have to pay like they ask us to. If we can get around it with smarts & technology, then alright, some of us will surely do that. But then we can’t use smarts & technology to get out of the unpleasant fact that we’re cheating.

  • PJ

    Not that I disagree, but I can imagine a lot of scenarios that are in the gray zone….

    – you read it at the library
    – you read a paper copy your boss brings into work (after she’s done with it)
    – you read it online by signing in as your spouse or roommate (assume he or she subscribes)
    – you pool funds with other members of your church or civic group to pay for one subscription, which you share amongst yourselves
    – you trade logins with others in an online chat room
    – you guess your neighbor’s login password and access the paper online through his account

  • PJ

    One irony — and further complication of the ethical analysis — is that the material in question is, on a per item basis, totally free to anyone who wants to read it, EXCEPT those who have already read 20 articles that month. Going back to the original analogy, it’s like going to the grocery store one day and finding out that they are giving away steaks for free, yet won’t give you one because you sampled something else in another department on your previous shopping trip. However, you COULD have had a steak if you’d driven to the store via the highway, rather than taking the local route.

  • robin

    “they want my money? involve me, excite me, give me a reason to buy.

    @megan (who seems to have disappeared), here’s exactly why us lumpen-proletariat find no reason to buy a nyt digital subscription:

    http://bit.ly/i7Irfc

  • Joe

    The joke is that 20 year ago the mantra was, the web, the web, in the name of consume good here comes free telephony for all, here comes less expensive music with no incremental cost to make and distribute. Free market prices, free news. Free ATMs.

    The market seers are pretty blind. The reason for this

    Things like ATM networks cost a load to support and a proper business case would show this. NYT is probably in the same boat.

    Computer people are much more expensive than typesetters and paper boys.

  • Ken

    NY Times paywall monthly fee is the same as what I charge them per month for the use of my computer to keep track of how many times I read there articles, so we are even.

  • dutchess550

    I will never pay for the NYT on-line or whatever. There’s enough advertising certainly to pay the way. I know how to jump the wall; I stick to the 20 free articles a month now, usually just the real estate section. I live in the midwest so the whole real estate thing is fascinating. I used to get the NYT delivered for international news. Now, I go to CNN. For free. I wonder if the NYT pay thing is successful?