When the New York Times launched its online paywall almost exactly two years ago, the free content crowd didn’t whine too loudly because of the plentiful workarounds. Links from social media were not counted toward the monthly article limit, and switching browsers or clearing cookies put the meter back to zero, leaving some analysts to refer to it as more of a pay fence (“climbable and purposely porous”). The easiest little hack of all, for the Internet savvy, was right there on the page: Deleting the “?gwh=numbers” section of the URL removed the obtrusive “Pay for this!” banner blocking the words. Not anymore.
Today we noticed the address-altering no longer cleared the in-house ad for non-subscribers. Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy confirmed as much in a statement:
“When we launched our digital subscription plan we knew there were loopholes to access our content beyond the allotted number of articles each month. We have made some adjustments and will continue to make adjustments to optimize the gateway by implementing technical security solutions to prohibit abuse and protect the value of our content.”
The timing makes sense. Much of the industry has followed, or is planning to follow, the Paper of Record’s lead when it comes to walling off online content (see also: the new New Republic). And the Times is relying more on subscribers to pay the bills: Advertising was down in 2012, and for the first time, the paper made more money from circulation revenue than ads. Digital subscribers grew 13.1 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, now totaling a promising 640,000, and new CEO Mark Thompson has promised a “new strategy” this year. Expecting more and more people to pay for “high quality journalism” is probably part of it.