Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What can't forty million dollars buy you?

A functioning paywall for your national newspaper, apparently.

Protip: If you use up your article allotment at the New York Times, all you have to do is delete everything after the question mark in the URL.

In other words, the Times spent two years and millions of dollars developing a system that can be defeated by changing this:

to this:

I know that sounds taxing, but don't worry! If hitting the delete key a single time is too onerous, you have alternatives: change to a different browser to reset the 20-article limit. Or just clear your browser's cache, that works too.

Keep in mind that the Times wants you to pay a $200 subscription fee to view its articles. Anyone the least bit internet-savvy is going to opt for the workarounds -- even if we ignore the laughably high fee, actually subscribing probably requires several times the hassle of "hacking" around the paywall.

Meanwhile, a huge proportion of other viewers will either read fewer Times articles because they fear the paywall, or will actually hit the paywall and move on to different news sources.

So what we have here, basically, is the Times trying salvage its financial future by trapping its most computer-illiterate readers into paying for an overpriced subscription because those readers don't understand that there are better ways to get the same news for free. (And I'm being generous: the other possibility is that the Times is hoping the paywall will guilt us into donating to its operation several hundred dollars of outright charity.*) This is, incidentally, the exact same business model AOL now uses -- relying on old people's technological ignorance to trick them into paying for services they don't need. In order to perpetuate the swindle, all the paper needs to do is drive away millions of the readers who were using it as their primary news source.

Eventually we have to draw the unavoidable conclusion, right? Which is that everyone involved in this fiasco must be some kind of idiot.

*Although, thinking about it, begging for donations is probably a better solution. The Times might still only make a pittance, but least it wouldn't be sacrificing readership in the process.


  1. Hilarious if it's true. I'm too lazy to try and read 20+ articles and modify the URLs to see for myself though.