Are You Gonna Pay for The New York Times? (Someone Has To –Right?)

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, my parents subscribed to the Sunday New York Times, which I anticipated with frenzied fervor — as a lifetime Magazine junkie, The Magazine was, of course, a primary draw of the Sunday edition. But mostly I wanted to wistfully flip the giant pages of the Arts & Leisure section, dreaming of my big bright future on Broadway, where I could perform songs from Oliver & Company while wearing a softball uniform.

Over a decade later, living some monumentally depressing variation on that childhood dream, my roommate — a passionate liberal with strong feelings about the importance of donating to Planned Parenthood even when you’re broke — subscribed to the paper edition despite being able to access it online. She’d fold it into squares to read on the subway and then these multi-folded situations would eventually find their home in our couch or on the floor of our East Harlem hovel.

Call me a liberal elitist douchebag but seriously — The New York Times is an institution, and it’s important, and I don’t want to see it die. We are, after all, staunch opposers to The Death of Print. The Death of Print is bad and The Times is a thing that’s done a lot of stuff. It’s a thing and if we want it to remain a good thing (and it’s not always a good thing — they f-ck up a lot too) then at some point the reader has to pony up. Starting today, The New York Times is asking its heavy users to pay for the content, because the ad sales model for online media just isn’t enough to run their business properly:

… the introduction of digital subscriptions is an investment in our future. It will allow us to develop new sources of revenue to strengthen our ability to continue our journalistic mission as well as undertake digital innovations that will enable us to provide you with high-quality journalism on whatever device you choose.

The Great Paywall of New York begins today. Readers can enjoy 20 free articles a month but any more than that will require a $15 monthly payment. $15/month gets you digital access and an app for your phone. $20 also gets you an iPad app, Times Reader 2.0 and NYTimes App for the Chrome Web Store. $35 a month combines the features of the other two plans, logically enough.

However, The Times didn’t tell us until today about this:

The Onion says it best in this satiric bit:

In a move that media executives, economic forecasters, and business analysts alike are calling “extremely bold,” NYTimes.com put into place a groundbreaking new business model today in which the news website will charge people money to consume the goods and services it provides. “The whole idea of an American business trying to make a profit off of a product its hired professionals create on a daily basis is a truly brave and intrepid strategy,” said media analyst Steve Messner, adding that NYTimes.com’s extremely risky new approach to commerce—wherein legal tender must be exchanged in order to receive a desired service—could drastically reduce the publication’s readership.

“To ask NYTimes.com’s 33 million unique monthly visitors to switch to a cash-for-manufactured-goods-based model from the standard everything-online-should-be-free-for-reasons-nobody-can-really-explain-based model is pretty fearless. It’s almost as if The New York Times is equating itself with a business trying to function in a capitalistic society.”

I think the $15 pricetag is slightly steep — $10 seems better. But I’m not against the paywall idea and I hope it works. Here’s why:

1) Writing is worth something: When we refuse to pay for quality writing, we are saying that quality writing is worthless. That makes me want to spill whiskey all over your laptop.

2) The New York Times has people on the ground. Blogs (including us) wouldn’t have anything to write about if institutions like The Times didn’t have reporters finding the news in the first place.

3) This is called investigative reporting. This is the most necessary type of reporting and there’s rarely enough funding for it. From Gawker:

The New York Times cover story about a euthanizing, beleaguered hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans dropped today. It’s estimated to have cost around $400,000. What kind of reporting does that buy? The expensive, endangered type.

The kicker? The New York Times didn’t even have the money to fund that investigation. Most of the bill was footed by ProPublica, a independent non-profit “newsroom” doing investigative journalism. Gawker again:

What’s going to happen to investigative journalism because of blogs? Important question with hard answers nobody’s sure of yet (except for blogs doing their own investigative journalism, maybe). Just as important, however, are the number of readers who are going to click through to Fink’s story. Bringing into question a $400,000 story’s costs misses the larger point of how much the actual information contained within the story’s worth to readers, and who’s going to capitalize on it. Again: it took a non-profit to get a story of this size out there. Who’s going to pay for the next Watergate? Or the next Torture Memos? And what kind of models are going to emerge from it?

4) Its digital version is pretty f*cking good.

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For the parents of the children who are grooming themselves to be Ado Annie and for the die-hard liberals who need to spread the paper out all over the floor in order to properly consume it or fold it into portable pieces for a morning commute, your home delivery subscription automatically includes digital access including tablet and mobile versions of the site.

What do you think? Is this an ethical decision? Is it worth it? Are you just gonna use the hacks described here instead of subscribing? Do you think The New York Times writes so many stupid articles that you really don’t give a shit? Is anyone else excited about UNLIMITED ACCESS TO THE ENTIRE ARCHIVE IF YOU PAY THE FEEEEE!?!?!??!?!!


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Riese

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2908 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. its a good idea, but i’m not paying for it because i do not read the ny times. I do, however, read and listen to npr, and so i donate. i think knowledge is worth paying for, you know?

  2. Just to play devils advocate:

    Why would I have a digital subscription to the NYTimes when I can find bloggers who will read information that I care about and then aggregate it on their website, for free.

    Reading the NYTimes is in my belief part of a culture, that either places value on the written word or that reminds people of a part of their childhood hence they hold an emotional value to.

    In my personal opinion I hope this pay wall works for the NYTimes. I am a news junkie, a trained journalist so I can understand the importance of upholding such institution that holds our government and wall street accountable.

    However I don’t believe youth see the value in news reporting “old school” style…and it is they after all the ones that will decide if this works.

  3. I am ok with this. I think newspapers need to figure out a business model that works and I applaud the NY Times for trying this as an experiment. It may be the first of many iterations and attempts but they need to figure something out.

    I read the NY Times daily (online) and its an education for me. Can’t claim that it has made me smarter, but at least I feel better informed.

    What I wish they would stop doing is running those adds with pretentious people telling me how they are “fluent in three sections, actually, business – world news – technology” – very obnoxious – anybody who uses word “actually” between phrases, I find particularly annoying….

  4. I too used to anxiously await the arrival of the Sunday NY Times as a kid. Growing up, it was my introduction to serious journalism, politics, and is probably more responsible for growing my vocabulary than many of the books I have read. Sure, I feel it has dropped off a bit in the past few years and every now and then I read an article that just leaves me shaking my head. Ultimately, though, I will pay for the site for the same reason I still pay for music: there are people behind those words who need to make a living from their work just like I do. The more people take that work for granted and expect it for free, the more we can expect lesser quality and a greater concentration of power (and voice) in the large media corporations.

    • Right on. I had to research the RIAA for an article I wrote in highschool and was super surprised to learn that most of the music that gets released (even by major record companies) loses money. They rely on a handful of popular artists to carry less mainstream artists. When everyone stops paying for music, all we’re going to have to listen to is the Top 40.

  5. I’m banking on my university having an institutional subscription to the NYT. Once I’m finally out of here, then I’ll probably pony up the money – that is if I am actually making any.

    I hope it does work and they do survive.

  6. I think it’s important to pay for or donate to the intellectual properties I enjoy when I can afford to. I haven’t read the Times website regularly in a few years but would seriously consider paying for it if I still did.

  7. If I actually read the NY Times regularly I would subscribe, but I only care about Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert and Herbert just wrote his last column for them so I’m down to Krugman and I’m not going to subscribe for one author.

  8. I think I’ve decided to suck it up and buy the subscription. $15 does seem a little steep, but they are the first place I go to for my news. I know people are saying that they’ll just start going to CNN or somewhere else for their news coverage, but to me, the NYT is about more than just headlines. They write stories that you can’t find elsewhere, and dig deeper than just reporting the biggest stories of the day.

    • also i find CNN aesthetically appalling. the new york times has some ads that people dislike, but on the whole it’s really easy to look at — there’s no excessive use of video or giant galleries in your face that take three minutes to load — it’s clean.

  9. There was no such thing as free newspaper where i grew up (third world country and i didn’t understand/use internet until i was in 9th grade) so my parents had (and still have) to subscribe and pay for the news. The newspaper was one of the few many ways I got to know what was going on in the world so I grew up appreciating print journalism. I mean, there is news on TV but reading is just different – You get to read at your own pace, you can analyze and digest the information, etc.

    I don’t make a lot of money but I don’t mind paying for the New York times as much as i don’t mind donating for AS.
    If you think about it, it’s just one or two less drink a month for excellent journalism, i think i can live with that :)

  10. This makes me so sad. I’ve spent the last 2 years as a writer…which means I either write passion projects for absolutely free or I spend gazillions of hours writing, researching, and editing for an educational site that has allowed me to (sometimes) pay my rent and that’s about it. The way people spell on Facebook and the kind of trash you can read online these days proves without a doubt that the vast majority of people think that writing is worthless. thank god there’s autostraddle as a safe port in this terrible storm. when will things turn around? i mean are we seriously just going to all be illiterate someday? there’s got to be a rock bottom somewhere……right? :(

  11. I’ll definitely get on board with that .99/month promotion. But $15 is too much for me. That said, the price of the NYT print has always been too much for me, too.

    I currently subscribe to the Wall Street Journal for about $100/year for unlimited digital access and physical newspapers at my door. It was an easy cost to stomach. But the NYT $180/year puts it just out of reach.

    However, as someone working in news, I see how much work/time/money goes into just one story. And I support the New York Times and other publications in monetizing their content.

  12. NYT online is my homepage, and even though I am a poor college student, I feel very compelled to donate. I often find myself reading through article after article, taking for granted this incredible, expensive, and often dangerous journalism. It’s like, I wish knowledge was free, but it’s not, so instead of just wishing for informational freedom and watching it slip farther and farther away, why not support the institutions that you want to succeed (NPR, for example)? Voting with your dollar or something. That being said, I feel like there should be a low income option for people. Since I make a little bit of money on campus, I figure I can forgo my coffee(s) some days and put my money towards institutions I want to succeed. However, this isn’t an option for some people and I don’t think people should have to choose between, for example, feeding their families and being informed.

    In other news, this article has inspired me to donate to Autostraddle.

  13. It’s an interesting discussion – this one. For me, information is certainly worth money. However, for me the opinions of journalists constantly masks out the information underneath the article.

    Increasingly these days I find myself doing a sort of wide-scan of online news sources (i.e. reading multiple sources about the same story) instead of reading various articles from one single source (e.g. I read The Guardian (UK) articles regularly, but I don’t read the full newspaper – just the news I’m interested in). I find it gives me more information on one topic, than a single news source typically gives (because each newspaper, no matter whether liberal or conservative, invariably put their own spin on the story – by their selection of the ‘important’ information). Getting the same story from multiple sources allows me to mentally seperate out the facts and the opinion.

    There are things worth paying for – but how they are paid for *by advertising, by paywalls, etc) in the modern age of the internet, that’s the thing that remains to be seen. I do know that I like lists. This is a list of things worth paying for (in my opinion, of course):

    1. Quick, up-to-date and accurate information: Not long articles discussing the information, but just the actual information itself. Reliable, accurate and neutral sources of information for the bloggers/tweeters/news outlets alike.

    2. Danger: Investigative journalism can risk someones life, family or career. Afghanistan, Libya – there are people in there amongst it all, getting the story and risking their lives. This deserves to be rewarded.

    3. Turning data into information: I don’t know anything about, for example, safety guidelines for nuclear power plants in Japan. I *do not* want a journalist telling me what he/she *thinks* or interprets these guidelines to be. I *do* want an independent scientific expert to explain it to me. Lazy science journalism drives me NUTS.

    4. Education and Entertainment: I’m a geek so education is entertainment to me. If someone can teach me something about literature, music, theatre, film or art, then that’s worth a lot to me. Again though, the worth is dependent on the quality of the writing!

    The paywall, for people like me, will only work when we cannot find the information elsewhere. Right now, that is not the case – I can find what I want without paying for it.

    How do we pay for sourcing the information – once that information is released, then it’s everywhere and free (such is the way of the internet). Unfortunately you can’t get someone to pay for information they already have. So only the first place to release the information gets to profit from it. How does that work in practise?

  14. ^ this.

    I pay for music and movies too even though pirated streams/torrents are easily available. I expect to be paid for the work I do, and want the same for the people who create the things I value (including blogs and nonprofits).

    I won’t pay for the NYT because I don’t think I’d get $200/year of value out of it. I also won’t use any of the hacks to cheat their paywall.

    • I second that.

      I pay for music/tv/films and so on – and have always been annoyingly vocal about the fact that we *must* do this. If someone has taken (quite a lot of) time to create music, for example, then I believe they should be rewarded. This doesn’t necessarily mean the big companies (record companies, or download companies like Apple, for example) should be making the amount of money that they do, but that’s a discussion for another day!

      I don’t believe in using hacks either to get past paywalls – particular as there are a lot of good free news sources on the internet. Hacking to get this information reduces the return-on-investment for these larger news companies, reducing our ability to get the information they provide. How much of this would be available if we only had free news?

      The internet, by design, is there for the free and unrestricted exhange of information – unfortunately I think the newspapers made a big mistake in making their newspapers free at the start – it’s very hard to get people to pay for something they’re used to having for free!

  15. I absolutely love the New York Times and I see it as an institution rather than just a newspaper. I think it’s absolutely fair of them to ask for payment of their service.
    However, I simply don’t have the money, with me living on a college student’s budget. My institution provides free print editions of the New York Times, and while I’ve been sometimey about picking them up, I’ll definitely do it every day now.
    The New York Times always manages to remind me of how fascinating our world is.

  16. I adore the NY Times and will probably subscribe despite being a college student. I’ll just use the money from quitting smoking. I think that in the age of bloggers, real journalism from unbiased, experienced sources is crucial. I do read blogs, but I don’t think they should be a primary source of news. I do have some ideas for those who won’t be able to afford the paper:
    -Newspapers are often free at colleges and schools
    -Buying the newspaper a few times a week could work
    -Even just buying the paper on Sunday twice a month provides you with a stack of news inches thick for $12.

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