Even With Pay Wall, the NYTimes.com Will Always Leave the Side Door Open

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The Journal takes a look this morning at the upcoming nytimes.com pay wall, which is set to debut next month. There's two bits of news in this piece. The first is that the Times will offer a digital bundle of website-subscription-plus-iPad-app for about $20, with the website-only deal running at less than half that price. At Reuters, Felix Salmon points out the flaw in this:

The idea seems to be that if you want to use the NYT iPad app at all, that’ll cost you a hefty $240 per year, over and above the cost of the iPad itself. But if you want to read the nytimes.com website on your iPad, that’s probably free — and even if you’re in the minority of power users, it’ll still be less than half the price of the app. Essentially, the NYT is doing everything it can to drive its iPad-owning readers away from the app and towards the built-in browser. ... The nytimes.com website is a vastly richer and more sophisticated offering than its iPad app, which doesn’t even have search or embedded hyperlinks, let alone archives.

Salmon notes that if the iPad app was actually cheaper than website access, the Times might actually encourage growth among app buyers — and therefore spur advertisers to take better advantage of the device's ability to deliver gorgeous, interactive visuals.

The second detail in the Journal piece is clarification on the Times' side-door-entry policy.

The Times has guarded details on pricing, which have evolved during the planning of the system and which could change even after rollout, depending on demand and other factors ... Times Co. executives have said that only about 15% of the paper's online readers are "heavy users," meaning the vast majority probably won't trigger a payment requirement. And half or more of the site's traffic in some months comes through the "side door," or from search engines, social-networking sites and other sources. Times Co. executives say people who arrive through search engines like Google won't be blocked from viewing the first page of a search result regardless of how many visits they've made.

Emphasis ours. Paper brass has said they'll work with browsers to try and block people from gaming the system this way, but this seems to be a departure from what we've been hearing. They call it an open side door, and what they're clearly imagining is something like your neighbor's cat door that always remains open for just the right friendly visitors. But it's hard not to imagine that with the inevitable mirror sites, this could turn into something more like an automated garage door, the kind where everyone in the neighborhood knows the code.

New York Times Readies Pay Wall [WSJ]