The Cost of Free Media

One of the biggest media stories in recent weeks is that the New York Times website decided to charge for access to its content on the Web, whether by computer, tablet or mobile device. Previously, reading NYT content was free and unlimited.

There are some stipulations, however. First of all, the first 20 articles per month still remain free. Second, print subscribers receive full online access. Third, only direct access through the main site requires a fee; finding links to articles from blogs, social media sites or other third-party referrals—including Google—remains complimentary.

By doing this, New York Times seems to be valuing the views from various sources differently, which many analysts presume can hurt the way marketing is performed and measured on the site. Those who are “regulars” on the site with their bookmarks loyally intact will be penalized, while the passive consumers of NYT content are encouraged or rewarded—which must speak to marketers on the site about the quality and investment of audience viewership. Are their online ads going to be viewed by those with whom the news outlet is held in high esteem, or scanned and dismissed by noncommittal browsers without a standing relationship to the New York Times?

Others simply find the move to be nonsensical, considering the plethora of trusted news content that’s available online; it’s as if NYT is bowing to this berth of competition or challenging loyalists to stay and continue using its site in the same manner…for what reward? Speculations abound, with plenty of critics suspecting this to be a mere red herring in the process of some greater scheme to change how users interact with NYT (such as via tablet) and get used to the idea of paying, in some respect, for its content.

AdWeek reports that about 83% of users access NYT through third-party means; 15% of users drive 80% of subscription traffic. These real fans, who are being taxed for their behavioral preferences, will likely simply seek out other outlets or adapt to the economics of the situation rather than play ball and open their wallets.

So let’s hear it: Has the New York Times shot itself in the foot, or do you have faith that the marketing minds behind this move know exactly what they’re doing?

Recent Posts