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.

Filed Under: buisness models, martin niesenholtz, ny times, paywall
Companies: ny times


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  1. icon
    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), 21 Mar 2011 @ 3:01pm

    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_

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