IF YOU are a regular reader of the New York Times online, your days of reading its content for free are numbered.
I hear you: “What? Since when do we need to pay for news?” Never, for those who have only ever gotten their news on the Internet.
Still, the reality is that people have always paid for news; though “paying” for anything online has been the subject of much debate over the last decade, especially with the popularity of peer-to-peer sharing sites like Napster.
News organisations, however, have taken a different approach with their content. We are in the later parts of the second decade since “online news” first made its way into the Internet.
In the early to mid 1990s, many established media organisations took to the Internet by reproducing their print content online via news websites.
Since then, news has become free for all. Forums started picking up news stories and reproducing them, and people created mailing lists to share stories with one another. The emergence of blogs meant there were even more platforms for sharing and disseminating news.
In recent years, social media took news sharing to another level. Facebook’s sharing abilities meant that you would be able to share content at the click of the button, made even easier later through the Facebook “Like” system.
Twitter, on the other hand, has long carried the title of social RSS (Really Simple Syndication, a system that allows readers to view current updates of websites and blogs, among others).
Of course, along the way, people started predicting the demise of the print industry. Around the world, circulation, readership and advertising numbers were dropping.
The emergence of the current generation of tablet devices will pose a threat to the traditional form of “print”.
Still, I believe that there is a role for editors and journalists in today’s social world – this is evident through the reliance on reputable media confirmation of happenings amid the millions of tweets from people in Egypt, Libya and Japan.
Granted, citizen journalism – where people contribute to the journalism process and take active part in the dissemination of news and information – is on the rise thanks to social networks.
Having said that, professional journalists still have more experience, knowledge, access and skill when it comes to the presentation of news, especially in analysis and gatekeeping.
The NYT is making the right decision in creating a paywall. News is like any other form of content – so why shouldn’t people pay for it?
It is not the first to think this way, of course. This is the paper’s second attempt at creating a paywall. Many news organisations – albeit with a less global reach – already have such a pay system in place. One of the more successful ones is our very own Malaysiakini.com. Recently, Rupert Murdoch launched his iPad-exclusive The Daily, which charges US$0.99 (RM3) a week.
It is still too early to gauge the success of these endeavours. What the NYT’s announcement has done, however, is reignite the debate about paying for news content.
However, many critics have also taken issue with NYT’s payment model. It has introduced three pricing packages for access to its content through different mediums; via the web and then packaged together with smartphone applications and iPad applications respectively. Subscribers to its print edition get full access at no extra cost (except for home delivery payment). After all, the print industry still relies on circulation numbers to make its profit.
The biggest argument against the NYT payment model is in its complicated plan. It would have been easier to have a monthly payment (as opposed to weeks), and to have a one-price plan. After all, despite the different ways you can access the news (web, smartphone and tablet), the content will generally be similar.
In a discussion while recording this week’s edition of social media podcast Life Online Show, web/online marketing consultant David Wang (@blogjunkie) likened this to paying for “access” as opposed to content.
As someone who believes in paying for content, I would hate to see the NYT model fail due to a complicated system (some other online ventures, such as Apple’s, have been successful because of the simplicity in payment).
But I would also like to see the payment system going one step further. While I know that the Internet has broken down geographical boundaries, it would be nice to acknowledge a global readership that might be restricted based on locality issues, such as exchange rates.
By offering 20 free articles a month, the NYT is also acknowledging readers are coming in from search engines and social media networks. This means that their readership is not just localised to the United States.
So, if they are going to try to capture a global audience, then their payment plans will also need to reflect this.
For example, I love the iPad version of Time magazine, but I would never pay US$4.99 (RM15) for an issue when I can buy a print version for less than that.
There is still a long way to go before getting the system right. The NYT has taken a bold step, but here’s hoping that the complication does detract from the paradigm shift it has the power to make happen.
* Niki features weekly on the Life Online Show (www.zineradio.com/lolshow).