I have started this post a couple of times over the past couple of weeks and though thoughtful reflection while writing I have changed my mind.
Let’s start with my original premise:
The New York Times will introduce a paywall on March 28th. A paywall means that unless you pay (or access the content through a variety of other conditions, like direct links in a blog post or from a search engine), you will need pay for a subscription after you hit 20 articles a month.
This was panic inducing to me, becuase as a former social studies teacher, I used a lot of New York Times content to help keep my classes fresh. My world geography courses, in particular, benefited greatly from both the daily content in the paper and the excellent county and region pages.
I do think this is a bad call on the part of the publishers of the New York Times. If the newspaper truly wants to be the paper of record, denying access to the millions that might want to read an articles in the newspaper considered so central to the business of daily news is silly. I also understand that to keep up the extraordinarily wide-ranging coverage that the Times is famous for, it will need to ultimately need to find an income source from the masses OR start charging.
How has my attitude changed? There are several ways:
- The New York Times isn’t stupid. Putting up a brick paywall with no holes will be doom for the average morning news reader. So, they are giving up to 20 free articles a month, something that Gizmodo calls “generous for the casual reader” (and I am inclined to agree).
- The New York Times isn’t ignorant about ways to drive traffic to the stories on their site. They understand that links from blogs, other new sites and dare I say the Moodles and blogs of social studies teachers drive traffic. So, those will be allowed, even if they go beyond a reader’s 20 stories a month (see the Gizmoto link above for details).
- The New York Times paywall is, frankly, easily tricked. Some clever users are already creating Twitter feeds (see here for one example) that will have links to tons of New York Times articles that will essentially hack the link-to exception to offer all content to the tech-savvy masses. There is chat about Firefox and Chrome extensions that might allow regular access, 20 article limit or not.
I am sure that there are some tech-savvy folks at the New York Times will crack down on rogue Twitter feeds and the like. If so, it seems to me that the New York Times is charting its own course. If you want to be the “paper of record” and you place barriers on the ways people access the information, you become less the paper of record.
What’s the answer? I maintain that the answer to this and a number of other Internet based funding problems is micropayments. I am NOT going to subscribe to the New York Times online for $15 a month. I might consider, however, for $25 a year, with liberal allowances for teachers and schools to get around the paywall. In fact, the New York Times would be a handful of services (the number is 10-15 for me) that would be worth a yearly micropayment to me. Otherwise? No thanks.
These are discussions we will need to have. The paywalls are coming. How will we in education respond?