Who Actually Felt 'Guilty' That They Read The NYTimes Online For Free?

from the living-in-delusion-land dept

The latest news on the NY Times’ bizarrely uncompelling paywall experiment is that the people at the NY Times appear to be delusional about it. Peter Kafka has an interview with NYT digital boss Martin Niesenholtz in which he defends the paywall with some strange reasoning… including claiming that people feel guilty reading the NY Times for free:

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.”

A few thoughts on this: first, it’s a load of crap. I can’t see that passing the laugh test. If they have research that says that, I’m willing to bet the research methodology was done poorly. At best, perhaps they asked the question in a way that made people embarrassed so they felt compelled to answer that way. News is free online. I’ve never heard anyone feeling “guilty” about not paying for news that was offered up for free on purpose. I mean, it makes you wonder, does anyone feel guilty for paying the subscription fees for a paper copy of the NY Times? After all, the subscription price doesn’t even cover the printing and distribution costs, so if people feel guilty for not paying for the reporting, then they ought to feel guilty for paying the paper subscription price. But that’s crazy.

More importantly, though, if they really believed that people felt guilty about it, they would just offer them up a way to pay what they wanted, voluntarily. Setting up a paywall with specific (and, at times, nonsensical) rules makes very little sense if you believe the key reason why people will pay is guilt. If the reason to pay is guilt, then just make it easy for people to do a pay what you want offering. But the Times didn’t do that because they know, deep down inside, that very few people “feel guilty” for reading the NY Times without paying for it. Thus, they know that just asking people to pay won’t work.

So why not just be upfront about why they’re putting up the paywall? My guess is that the folks putting this together know deep down inside that this is a disaster in the making. It’s why there’s no value proposition being added here. All you get is a negative value proposition (“we won’t block you at some point”). I doubt that the paywall will be a “disaster,” just because the NYT’s has a big enough core and loyal audience to get some to pay. I just can’t figure out any way that it’ll actually serve to really make the company that much money.

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Comments on “Who Actually Felt 'Guilty' That They Read The NYTimes Online For Free?”

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50 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Newspapers...

It has to be a generational thing. There really can’t be any other explanation as to why they completely fail to understand what’s going on here. When I first heard their plan for different pricing on different platforms I literally LOLed (they don’t know what that means).

I think they’re freaking out because they don’t understand how the delivery has changed. They still think they’re selling digital versions of the paper they peddle on the streets. They’re worrying how to support the Style section and the World News section and so on when they should be worrying about how to get people to read their paper when Japan gets hit with a tsunami.

The information age has broken the advertising model because now advertisers can see exactly how many people view a story. It puts them in a better position to dictate terms, so naturally they’re going to look to the readers to cough up more cash.

Sean T Henry (profile) says:

Re: Re: Newspapers...

If they wast to make it worth my time to pay then they need to have several papers all in one service show relevant new news on the home page. From there they need to allow users to vote on articles and authors of the articles to tailor the publication to the user and cross reference it with what other users preferences. If a user likes business news and two deferent people publish a story on the same thing it will show the more preferred article first based on past selections.

It is a lot like using google reader with a voting aspect.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Throughout my life I have read innumerable newspapers for free in waiting rooms at the doctor, the dentist, hair salon, car dealerships, etc. (basically anywhere you have to wait). I have also read them for free at many, many diners and fast food restaurants.

Never once did I feel guilty for doing that. Why? Because, even though I may not have actually paid for those papers, they were still getting my eyes viewing their advertisements, so really I did pay.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Times got one thing right: their snobby yuppy liberal pseudo-intellectual fanbase thrives on a false sense of academic and cultural exclusivity. In their hearts, many of them would like to triple the price to keep the riffraff from logging on, and wrap each copy in a faux Village Voice cover so they won’t have to see the Republicans holding them. If anyone is going to buy into the concept that scarcity creates value, they most certainly will.

I don’t think it will keep the paywall from becoming a spectacular failure, like every other implementation, but it will probably putter on longer than most others.

John Doe says:

The aspect that I find disturbing in all this...

There is one aspect of journalism like this I really find disturbing. It is the fact that news organizations can apply pressure to their journalists to write stuff like this that they quite possibly don’t even believe themselves. If journalists are defenders of our freedom like they believe that they are, why would they write stuff like this just because their boss told them too?

Just like 60 Minutes did with the piece on movie piracy with Lesley Stahl (sp?) feigning shock and disbelief about it. If you don’t have any more journalist integrity than that, why would anyone want to pay money for what you write?

PaulT (profile) says:

I think that, in an interesting way, this actually ties into the thought process the movie, music, etc. industries are having about their product.

Before the internet, people shared newspapers, read them for free in doctors offices, etc. While publishers were certainly aware of this, they couldn’t do anything about it, nor did they know exactly how many people did so. It’s the same with other media – people have always shared their records, their books, their movies with other people in ways that couldn’t be measured or prevented.

Now, with the internet, they have access to data on how many people share media, and it shocks them. They panic, especially if they are losing money, and try to stop it. They feel that whatever free access to their product is available is stealing, and thus money is being stolen from them.

Hence the NYT’s bizarre claims. I’d bet that whatever study they performed framed the question in a way that implied that free access was stealing. Of course people would feel guilty about stealing, hence the result. But, free access to content is not stealing, especially if the producer of said content is offering it for free. So, the results are faulty.

Nobody feels guilty about accessing legal content for free. They don’t feel guilty about listening to the radio, watching TV, borrowing books from the library or borrowing physical media from friends. That’s because there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Many companies over the years have made a lot of money by offering free content. If the NYT can’t figure out how to do that, it’s their problem, not the consumer’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Before the internet, people shared newspapers, read them for free in doctors offices, etc. While publishers were certainly aware of this, they couldn’t do anything about it, nor did they know exactly how many people did so”

The publishers were definitely aware of this, they had surveys and stats which they used to bump up the cost of advertising with them by demonstrating to advertisers that the number of people who would see their adverts would be a multiple of the sales figure for the newspaper.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

For the hard of thinking the whole readers per copy that the newspaper industry has used for many decades is an example of people not thinking they could sue people for sharing but instead making the fact that newspapers were shared a fundamental part of their business strategy.
The extra readers weren’t freetards or thieves they were extra eyeballs for the adverts that paid for the publication, the publishers knew it and knew that the advertisers wanted eyeballs.

But in this brave new world of the internet apparently some newspapers management think that advertising is less important and eyeballs are now unwanted, truly bizarre.

CN says:

Worthless research?

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

If this is the typical quality of your research, you can keep the rest of it. Clearly worthless. If anything, NYT is guilty of stealing our time if anyone reads it.

ElderGeek (profile) says:

Refering to oneself in the third person

It is valid if I say that the New York Times is a “valued institution”. When I say that I am a “valued institution”, then I have just gone overboard.

Pretty much everyone else has the right to call the New York Times a “valued institution” if they believe that is the case.

For them to say that about themselves is hubris and fairly good indication of what is wrong with the industry. The elitist entitlement mentality. They are just waiting for us to come back to our senses and realize that all the blogs online and most other newspapers that let you read for “free” are just junk. They are the fricking NEW YORK TIMES and you are lucky to pay $3.75 a week to get their opinion on anything so you can know what to think about any topic till the retraction is issued on page A35.

proximity1 says:

Re: Refering to oneself in the third person

Well, “Elder” or, “Tough Senior”,

I read the paper for years as a paying subcriber, (got it by mail before it was printed and delivered to subscribers in many major U.S. cities) and, with that in mind, I’m writing this reply to state that, in my opinion, the newspaper is a piece of “&9{“!? execrable expletive-deleted JUNK! –Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman excepted—and they don’t make up enough to outweigh the junnk and save the Times from deserved ignominy. I won’t be sorry to see it fold–permanently, in all its incarnations, paper, digital, etc.

And, YES, you’re correct, the internet is even worse–far worse, junk, truly miserbale crap. But that doesn’t mean the NY Times is worth a thinking person’s time.

I’m with those who, when it’s suggested that they feel guilty for reading the NYT for “free” (suffering its intrusive and obnoxious ads, to boot) they scoff and say “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I dropped newspapers as worthless advertising non-news, and read the idiot-net so I can keep tabs on the rate of society’s hell-bent rush to complete an insane cultural suicide-pact. Now, to keep up with what’s going on, I read books, bound, printed-on-paper books, and little else (except almoost-commercial-free (socialist) radio.)

Yours,

“Tender Juvenal”

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m so confused.
With Murdoch’s Times, I understood that part of the reason* he hated the extra eyeballs he got without a paywall, following links from external sources was because they didn’t stay on the site long enough and browse through all the stories like a proper newspaper reader thereby being exposed to all the adverts that fund the whole thing but the NYT is okay with people coming for the odd story and only wants to charge them if they do stick around and read lots of stories while being presented with advertising.

Back to Rupe
*Other parts of course include his hatred of the BBC and everything he doesn’t control.

Delusional of course but there are reasons for his delusions, his biggest break (in the UK) was realising that sports fans who got lots of the sport they wanted on free to air television could easily be persuaded to pay vast sums to watch potentially more (but in reality about the same) amount of sport and they kindly financed him to remove most sport from free to air television.

Actually this is the one point in his favour, for those of us who are not sports fans, as sky taking the sports opened up the possibility (not always fulfilled) of weekend television becoming considerably less dull.

His trouble is that there really are no other groups that will behave quite so irrationally against their own best interests as the sports fans did, but how is he to know that, given the history with sport and the popularity in the states of Fox why would he think rationality would enter into anything in any meaningful way.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

>>The latest news on the NY Times’ bizarrely uncompelling paywall experiment is that the people at the NY Times appear to be delusional about it.

Mike, people at the NY Times being delusional about their paywall is not news. It’s proponents have been delusional about it from the beginning.

I would write more, but suddenly I feel wracked with guilt over the fifty-plus years I have watched free TV and listened to free radio.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good luck with that reasoning. Somehow, I don’t think throwing the blame on the reader is going to work.

I didn’t feel bad about the occasional read then, I don’t feel bad about the choice not to go there either. That choice has nothing to do with guilt. It has to do with what I see as value for my time as opposed to paying for something that I see little value in.

If I felt guilty, I’d be reading and clicking on any advertising shown. I don’t do that. Between the annoyance and the security issues, that isn’t going to happen. This idea that pestering the heck out of the reader to get them to view ads (which was to pay for the paper) often at the cost of losing the thread of the read, is another scam that you should be happy to support.

Instead, NYT should feel guilty about plastering their on line with ads if they are taking the subscribers money for the ability to read it on line. I don’t see that happening.

So good luck with this idea that it is somehow the readers fault that NYT isn’t falling all over itself with money generated for something no one wants but the NYT.

If readers see the NYT as something well worth the money, you won’t have to try and shame them into something if they see value in it. That this is being attempted tells you right off the bat, it ain’t working as planned.

I’ll go get my news at BBC or any of the other “free sites” and it will have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with feeling guilty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I have no news

“These days I get my news from Mike and HYGINFY”

Seriously?

HIGNFY is your source for news?

That is sad, even sadder when you link to a year old episode of a comedy panel show that pretty much relies on people not only being able to tolerate Merton and Hislop in that stale and jaded format but to also have some clue of the events of the week to find it funny.

You should go back to reading newspapers, at least their online versions, well those which are free anyway.
Not to mention BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN and a wealth of other sources of information, far too numerous to list.

If you just aren’t interested in anything, then that’s fine, but don’t pretend that for anyone who is interested that all their needs could be met by Mike and one comedy panel show.

Scott (profile) says:

Browser Plug-in

Between ad-ons RefControl (telling them the traffic is from twitter which is unlimited), Linkstatus (which doesn’t tell the last date I visited) and Noscript (mentioned earlier…no java script), Firefox has me pretty well covered in the free category. Do I feel guilty? No. I also dont feel guilty when there is content that is made almost impossible to view when you pay (past tv shows) for free via bittorrent. I pay for cable…they just make it just short of impossible to do the right thing

Groms (user link) says:

Getting Around the Paywall

The NYT sent an email to paper subscribers saying that they won’t have to pay for online access. All they need to do is log on through the link below and enter their last name, zip code, and one of these 3 (acct. #, credit card #, or phone number). Shouldn’t be too hard to get the last name, zip code, and phone number of your neighbor who gets the paper delivered. I wouldn’t do it, but I’m just saying it could be done.
https://myaccount.nytimes.com/link/homedelivery

DV Henkel-Wallace (profile) says:

Actually, me

I subscribe to the sunday hardcopy paper specifically for this reason. “Guilt” doesn’t enter into it: it’s really no different from any other form of shareware (and thus doesn’t require the “scareware” / “letter from an orphan girl” treatment the times gave it).

I do typically flip through the hardcopy paper, though by then I’ve already read most of it online. But there is the dead trees serendipity value, though it doesn’t justify the paper version on its own.

By the way it is ironic that the best deal on online subscription is to subscribe to the hardcopy. But it makes sense: the CPM is so much higher for a hardcopy subscriber. Clearly this is an attempt to pull the same thing off online. Good luck.

And why did they make all the options so complicated? They should differentiate _less_ at this stage, not _more_

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Weight or Volume

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.”

After re-reading that portion of the article, it suddenly made sense when I did the math. If we assume the average weight of a human is 150 pounds then it only takes 27 people to make TONS of people, maybe even 50 people felt that way. If the NYT wants to base a business model on 50 or so positive responses and one woman in Canada who actually sends them a check because she reads the news for free online, then more power to them.

Tons of people… The really shouldn’t do survey results by weight.

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