A Better Letter To New York Times Readers About Digital Subscriptions

Today, the New York Times is taking a major step forward as we introduce digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world. Since we first announced the plan 11 days ago, we’ve heard from so many of you, our readers. We’ve also heard from a bunch of noisy bloggers, but they just rip us off anyway, so we’re ignoring them.

We’re grateful for the feedback from our loyal readers (not those blogger brats) and, most of all, for your commitment to the The Times. So grateful, indeed, that we think you should start paying us, even though we’ll still be showing you all those ads.

As you may know, on March 17, we introduced digital subscriptions in Canada. That’s because we figured, “Who gives a crap if the Canadians complain?” Plus, Canadians are known for being pretty polite. We figured we’d be good there.

Officially, the Canadian launch allowed us to test our systems and fine-tune the user interface and customer experience. Today, we are launching globally. I know, I said that already in my lead, but I enjoy repetition.

Memorize These Print Subscription Costs!

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The Times [we like to say “The Times” as if there are no other “Times” newspapers out there], you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and other features on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to NYTimes.com.

We have three home delivery options, so you’ll pay:

  • $193 for Monday-Friday delivery
  • $270 for Friday-Sunday delivery
  • $385 for all seven days in the week

Now memorize those figures, that we’ve shoved over on a page where they’re only accessible after you enter a ZIP code, and where you can’t easily compare them to our three different digital subscription prices. As a news publication, we wouldn’t want to make any of this stuff easy. We can do interactive graphics on elections, nuclear meltdowns but our pricing plans? Maybe we’ll do a flowchart in the future.

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access to 20 articles (including slide shows, videos and other features) each month.

By the way, because we break our stories up into two, three or more “pages” on the web for no other reason to shove more ads your way, you won’t really get 20 “articles” but rather 20 page views. Bonus tip: even if you use the “print” option to view an article in one single page, that will have cost you a second click.

Our 20 Article “Limit” [Chuckle]

If you go over those 20 articles, you’ll be asked to become a digital subscriber. You won’t be able to view any more articles on our site, sorry. No ifs, ands or buts. Except…

If you use our smartphone or tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free. But that’s it! Except….

If you come through links from search engines, blogs and social media, you’ll be able to read any article, even if you’ve used up your 20 limit already. Except….

If you come to the site through ANY link, you’ll be able to read any article, even if it’s not a link from search engines, blogs or social media sites. Except….

If you come from search engines, even though we already said you’ll be able to read any article even if you’ve hit your 20 per month limit, we actually meant any article except if you’ve already read five articles via search engines on that day. Get it? No? Yeah, it makes our heads hurt, too.

Why are search engine links so special? The short story is we’re pretty messed up about all this stuff. The long story, well, there’s a link below.

People Who Don’t Know We Exist [Shudder] Deserve Freebies

We’re doing all this, giving away all this free access, because we don’t think “new” and “casual” users will:

  • Cough up the same money that you, our loyal users will
  • Or link to us giving us all those ad views that we earn money from, but not enough money, apparently

Our home page and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times. That’s because those new and casual freeloaders never come to our home page or section pages. But our regular users do, and we hope you’ll keep doing that, use up your free clicks and pay to get rid of a barrier that a 12 year old child could figure out.

Real Readers Whip Out Their Wallets

But you’re not 12. You’re 55, and paying the money is worth it to you. Pity you’re not really our future, though. Then again, we’ll be long gone before that issue gets even worse. Let those suck-head social media yapping editors and reporters deal with it, when their time comes around, they think they’re so smart.

Memorize These Digital Subscription Costs!

How about those digital options? Well, you can buy:

  • $195 for web and smartphone app access
  • $260 for web and tablet app access
  • $455 for web, smartphone & tablet app access

Killing Trees Saves Us $70 Per Person In Journalism Production Costs

Now I hear you asking yourself. Is it true? I can get a human being to throw a hard copy of the New York Times on my porch seven days a week for $385 — and that comes with digital access on ANY device — but if I just want digital access, it costs me $70 more?

Yes. You see, despite all our yapping that we don’t make enough money off digital visitors, if we can just throw more paper copies on porches that people don’t actually read, we still make money, because we can continue to sell overpriced print ads to all our print advertisers as if they are somehow more valuable unseen on dead trees than when viewed through electronic pixels.

Displaying Content In Tablet Apps Costs $65 More In Journalism Production Costs

I hear you asking, why should I pay $65 more to view the exact same content on my tablet app versus my smartphone app.

Um, because we can do that? Look, we don’t really have much control over all this digital stuff, so we take what we can get.

Access To Both Tablets & Smartphones Costs $260 More In Journalism Production Costs

And I hear you asking, why’s it cost $260 per year more to view things on both your smartphone and your tablet?

Again, because we can. Why don’t you just take the paper edition, smart ass?

Coming In Next Week’s Wall Street Journal, A Guide To The New York Times Paywall

As you have seen during this recent period of extraordinary global news, The Times is uniquely positioned to keep you informed. Except about all these plans, and how they make much sense. In that regard, we’re banking on a convoluted system that will let anyone who doesn’t want to pay to keep reading whatever they want while those who don’t know better, or those who figure “What the hell, I just want that nag screen to go away,” to pay.

What, still got questions? Here, go read these:


  1. smoMashup says

    Hilarious! Nicely written man. This is just about as convoluted as a paywall and pricing system can get. The NYT should just link to this article to help explain it all.

  2. Steve says

    If I pay $193 for Monday-Friday delivery, do I get 7-day online access for web, smartphone, and tablet? If so, the $455 figure for digital-only seems even more ridiculous.

  3. says

    You do indeed, Steve — and yes, it does seem ridiculous when yo put the two side-by-side. Or incredibly clever, at least in that it potentially boosts the NYT print circulation.

  4. says


    Correction, though: multi-page stories only count once. Haven’t dug into how they’re tracking that. But revisiting a story you’ve already seen later counts again.

    And apparently, they can’t count to 20 very fast. I got two different stories to show “This is your last free article this month” in the same browser.

  5. says

    Now if they introduced this on 4/20, my brain might be calibrated in such a way to understand how this is supposed to work…but no matter what I read about it, I still don’t get it…

  6. says

    Danny, it gets better if you happen to live outside their home delivery area. You get offered the “Replica Edition” (appears to be PDFs) or a mail subscription, neither of which make any reference to digital access.

  7. Joseph says

    One error in the post. You will only get charged one hit, against your 20 monthly allotments per month, even if the story is multiple pages.

  8. Chacci says

    This is funny, sort of the way the jokes my 10 year old nephew tells me over and over are funny. He and his friends think they’re hilarious because they are too young to know that everyone has been telling the same jokes when they turn 10 since time began. What’s your excuse. If you don’t want to pay the Times (and it’s ok to refer the Times as the Times when the letter is published on the Times website) then don’t. But don’t fault them for trying to figure out a way to get paid for what they do. I’ve been a journalist and I don’t know if information wants to be free or not, but I know that hunting it down, organizing it and then disseminating it to readers is not free at all. In some cases, journalists — including those who work at the Times right now — pay with their lives and/or their safety. You are under no obligation to pay them and as such you should be grateful that they made it so that you can still read their work — work which has very few equals. And as you continue to mock them (because I know you won’t listen to me), consider this: if this model fails, they will go away. If they can’t do it, virtually no other professional journalism institutions will be able to survive. Then what will all of those bratty bloggers write about? Who is going to do the reporting that they get all bratty about? Move on!

  9. says

    Chacci, I’m faulting them for putting out a convoluted system and not explaining the logic behind it, demonstrating what value it actually provides.

    See my previous piece:

    This explains how there’s no particular reason to be blocking search engines. It’s a remnant left over from when they were concerned that Google was allowing people in “free” without registration too often. But when they’ve since rolled out a system that allows anyone to come and view any page on the site from any link — isolating search engine visits (as opposed to Facebook or Twitter) simply makes no sense.

    Worse, it implies that they fundamentally don’t understand why they stil have that block, which is not reassuring for all those hardworking journalists who are depending on management to come up with a future business plan that will keep them running.

    They have assembled a paywall that’s designed to get relatively few people paying and, of those, the least technically savvy or those with deeper pockets who just don’t mind paying.

    Neither audience is much of a business model. The deeper pockets give you incremental income. The tech non-savvy audience is dying. If you really want to have a paywall contribute substantially to your bottom line then you come up with something the tech savvy will pay for.

    The tech savvy do seem to like apps, and since they can control the flow in apps more easily, we see the higher prices there. Frustrating plans, of course — tablets cost more than smartphones because? Because … they can?

    Lowering pricing if you buy hard copies make sense, because they make more off the hard copy ads. But the long term solution — which they should have been working on ages ago — is to convince advertisers that the same person reading the same content online is just as valuable or more so than reading it offline.

    The challenge, of course, is that the offline advertising has probably been long overvalued. They can build up the circulation to keep flogging that dead horse longer, but that’s still not building a business model for the future.

    That’s what I’m faulting. This is a two year, multi-million dollar project, and this is what they’ve come up with?

    Also, I haven’t just been a journalist. I AM a journalist. So I understand the value of getting paid for journalism, because it is how I’ve made my living for two decades, the last fifteen years on my own. And in my previous pieces, I’ve also explained that part of that has involved paywalls. But they were paywalls that made sense.

    In terms of feeling grateful that the New York Times is letting me read it works — you have it backwards. The New York times is grateful if I or others read what it produces. Because if we don’t, then it really doesn’t have a business model.

    Again, my earlier piece got into this, but the bulk of the NYT’s money comes from ads. Ads. Ads that they show to readers. That’s one reason why, as part of the “paywall” they’ve concocted, that they are still letting people in for free, as much as they want, from all over the web. They especially want stories to be shared, so that that they get more page views, so they get more ad revenue.

    I’m not mocking journalism. I love good journalism. I want good journalism to survive. But part of the reason many traditional journalism enterprises are in the trouble they are right now is because they have been run by management that has has for years — for nearly two decades now — failed to adapt. And if they don’t get it right, they’ll go down. And the journalism will still get written, but it will written by the smarter refugees and others who do figure (and already are figuring out) new models or adapting old ones to digital.

  10. Rahul Pathak says

    Great, hilarious post. I read (can’t remember the source right now) the new plan is really designed to keep print subscribers from cancelling rather thank to entice new online subscribers. Makes sense given the pricing above.

    “The future is for suckers — we’re hanging onto the past!”

  11. says

    ahahaha – such a great BLOG – i love it (oops meant like) – sharing it (oops same thing) and enjoying it all by myself! I had no idea that if you already have a print subscription that you have free access to the online version.The Times doesn’t mention that very much – hmmm wonder why? I follow you on Twitter and loved all your tweets yesterday 3/28 about the Times paywall – they were great … @spirapex

  12. pepper says

    A newspaper’s business is delivering eyes to advertisers; journalism is a way of getting them there. You may think offline ads are overvalued, but the important thing is that advertisers don’t, for all kinds of reasons. An ad in the paper version of the Times is potentially useful and interesting – you can tear it out, remember where it is for later, or skip right by it if it doesn’t concern you. Nobody has yet devised an unannoying, unobtrusive online ad – even if an ad sent into spinning life by a stray movement of your cursor is for something you intend to invest in that very afternoon, you are more likely to try and shake it than you are to study it. A print reader is worth 80 to 100 times more than an online reader, which is why you can get some magazine subscriptions for $6 and some newspaper subscriptions for $2.20 a week. $19.95 a month isn’t nearly enough to make up for losing a print reader to the web, but it helps. And sure, you can still read articles without ponying up: what you can’t do is read the Times. The system seems rather clever. (You can game the WSJ and FT firewalls too, but I do it what – twice a month?)

    Then again, I was one of the patsys who paid for Slate, Salon and Times Select because I thought it was important, so take my opinion for what it may be worth.

  13. says

    Yes, advertisers don’t think offline ads are overvalued — incredibly. Probably helps that the ad reps keep hammering those home, rather than online ads.

    Online ads at newspaper sites typically sit off to the site, just like in a “real” paper and aren’t any more obtrusive, at least in my view. Moreover, stories at online sites don’t stop halfway through and force you to jump many pages further into the paper, in part so you’ll see more ads (though online sites more often do break up stories for more page views).

    You can tear out ads, if you remember and bother. You can remember to look at them later. Or, most likely, you’ll ignore most of them just like you’ll ignore most of them online — but as an advertiser, you’ll pay a lot more for the cost of being ignored in print.

    It’s not that the print reader is worth more. It’s that the ads sell for more. My worth didn’t disappear just because I was online. You simply have ad sales people who keep pushing that idea, and advertisers who keep buying into it.

    That’s part of the real failure with the New York Times. There appears to be no real attempt to improve the state of online ads. At best, they can argue they’ll increase print circulation by getting digital subscribers to take the paper, since digital subscriptions are cheaper that way. But those digital subscribers don’t mean more eyeballs actually hit that print edition.

  14. says

    Perspective shows just how messed up they are. Thanks Danny! They should get real and just decide to go all free or all fee. All fee would be the Murdoch-death grip approach which may be the Swan Song of completely paid news content, while all free might cannibalize physical subscriptions but boy the traffic to authority news would be humongous. Frankly the all free news sites with interstitials kill me because they waste my time trying to access the free content. The news industry is proving to be stubborn and stupid even though they had the music industry as an example of what not to do. They still messed it up! I’ve all but written the whole thing off like some of the musicians complaining Steve Jobs killed their excellent gig. The fact is, Internet changes things like radio, TV and either businesses get with the game or lose against newcomers like Apple, Google et al. Stick in a fork because they’re done!

  15. Mesrianilaw says

    It’s amazing that Newspapers are still in demand even though internet is everywhere.It shows that there are still people who prefer reading news and articles etc on paper rather than browse the web. Whatever your type of medium is, what matters most is the information it contains and it delivers clearly to people.

  16. says

    Great post Danny. No surprise from the NY Times Earnings Release last Tue (25 Apr 2011 AP) – “The New York Times Co.’s first-quarter earnings fell 58% as a decline in print advertising revenue outweighed an increase in digital advertising revenue.”

    I find it hard to understand why laser-focused targeting like re-marketing and other forms behavioral targeting available online ads why anyone would think that a print ad, which at best can be contextually targeted, would be worth more than an ad targeted based on a viewers behavior and inferred (or in the case of Facebook and other online media giants) actually specified. Do they think that except for agencies, publishers and ad networks, only sophisticated media buyers understand this?

    I might be able to clip a print ad and save it for later, but I can’t click to call or click to buy from print add on the train ride to work with a newspaper like I can with my smart phone.

    Embedding video in print is a bit of challenge. Video has shown strong branding and RIO potential and with the adoption of video capable phones and tablets like behavior targeting, can drive up the value/CPM of the online ad inventory…. just saying.