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July 6, 2010, 6:54 p.m.

Time Magazine putting up a paywall to protect print?

Check out the current issue of Time Magazine at Time.com. Click around. Notice anything? On almost every story that comes from the magazine, there’s this phrase: “The following is an abridged version of an article that appears in the July 12, 2010 print and iPad editions of TIME.”

Late last month, Reuters’ Felix Salmon noticed that a Time.com story he followed a link to wasn’t all there — it was just a snippet and a note saying that “To read TIME Magazine in its entirety, subscribe or download the issue on the iPad.” But by the following morning, the full story was back as if nothing happened.

The fact that nearly every major article in the current issue online is now cut short — and that each has the new this-is-an-abridged-magazine-article note — would seem to indicate this is part of a new shift at Time. (A few pieces are posted in full, but even the letters page gets cut off. Even a slideshow, that ultimate driver of pageviews, gets chopped down to just a single slide.)

At this rate, every news outlet with some variant of “time” in their title will be charging digital readers in one way or another. A quick Googling seems to indicate this is new with the July 12 issue.

We’ve got a call into Time to get additional details, but a few quick thoughts:

— It’s interesting that Time would consider this kind of a move when (a) its major rival, Newsweek, is getting roughed up economically, and (b) managing editor Richard Stengel has been proudly proclaiming that Time was “very profitable last year, and we will be even more profitable this year.”

— Time’s website is popular, and there’s still plenty of free content on it — just not, apparently, the weekly magazine itself. News paywalls tend to be more about protecting print as a standalone product than about building a new online revenue stream. So maybe making the content differentiation between the two stronger makes sense.

— But this is a paywall without a door: There appears to be no way to buy access to the magazine from within a web browser — either an individual article or the full issue. The push is all toward print and the magazine’s iPad app. Is that a temporary shortfall, while Time figures out the best way to charge for web access? Or is it a sign publishers are concluding that the web is so problematic a platform for news-as-paid-content that they’re better off using it as a simple promotional platform for iPad apps and paper? Or to ask the zen question, is it really a paywall if there’s no way to pay?

— Given all that, is it just ironic justice or something more that the current Time cover story was written by none other than Steven Brill?

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     July 6, 2010, 6:54 p.m.
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