In a press release today, the New York Times indicated that its much-awaited pay meter is on the horizon. The Guardian quotes Arthur Sulzberger as saying he does not expect a drop in web traffic as a result of the change.
When the UK newspaper The Times erected a paywall, it saw a 90% decrease in readership, as people using social networking tools were no longer able to link to its content very efficiently. The New York Times, however, will attempt to strike a balance; leaving its content up for free for the casual user while injecting a paywall after an undetermined number of visits. This way, a person can read an article for free and tweet a link to it without worrying that his readers will hit a brick wall when they arrive. To try to ensure the sharability of the Times content, it will not require payment if you come into the site through a side door — through an RSS feed, a search engine, or a link. Though we don’t know the exact ramifications, this seems to indicate that only people who come in through NYTimes.com will be charged. Perhaps also people who come in through a side link and continue clicking through articles.
There are two unknowns in this equation:
1. If it’s easy to get in through a side door, will savvy consumers simply Google New York Times headlines to avoid paying? I already do this often when I encounter the Wall Street Journal’s paywall.
2. Even though the Times will allow a certain number of free visits, will the mere existence of a paywall automatically drive down inbound links? If the fourth article I read on the New York Times is locked down and unaccessible, then I as a reader won’t be able to link to it. Certainly the publisher is expecting at least some drop in traffic?