The New York Times delivered details regarding its new paywall today, with a tiered pricing plan that begs the question: Considering how well the Times iPhone and iPad apps have done, has the Gray Lady thought hard enough about the app user’s perspective?


Finally, the New York Times disclosed details of its long-awaited digital subscription plan today, including changes affecting its online and smartphone readers. The new plan launches today in Canada for testing ahead of a March 28 global launch, but might it actually scare away the readers who stand to benefit the paper the most?

Non-subscribers will still have access to a limited amount of content, including 20 articles per month (which includes slideshows, videos and other forms of multimedia content), after which they will be asked to subscribe. Users who reach stories from links in blogs, social media and searches will also still be able to access stories, even if they’ve exceeded the monthly limit. Digital subscriptions start at $15 billed every four weeks, which provides access to the NYTimes.com website and use of a smartphone app (the NYT iPhone app, for example). A second plan will cost $20 every four weeks and include NYTimes.com access and use of a tablet app (like the iPad app that’s currently available for free), and a third plan will cost users $35 for a four-week period and include unlimited digital access across all platforms. E-reader subscriptions like the one available in the Amazon Kindle store will continue to be sold and priced separately, and home delivery subscribers will still get full digital access as a part of their subscription.

Tiered access based on the device used is an interesting approach, but one I predict won’t be popular. Why, for instance, does tablet access cost more than smartphone access? Because it’s more convenient and enjoyable to read an iPad app than it is to use your  iPhone? After all, users aren’t paying more for better features. They’re paying for the same content, plus a sliding premium based on whether or not they themselves choose to buy a more or less expensive consumption device, or want to access content on multiple devices.

Dave Winer makes a great point in his post of initial reactions to the news: The New York Times isn’t thinking enough about the user’s perspective. In short, he argues the newspaper offers nothing in exchange for what it’s now asking of its users. In fact, as I just mentioned, the plan seems to penalize you depending on what platform you want to access content from.

According to the Times, its iPhone app has been downloaded 6.2 million times since its 2008 launch, and the iPad app has been downloaded over 1.6 million times since October. NYT officials say the iPad app has generated strong interest from advertisers, especially luxury, technology and entertainment companies. Studies have shown that iPad readers are more susceptible to advertising than those using other mobile platforms. The Times is also planning to offer users the ability to subscribe digitally from within the app, which will work with Apple’s in-app subscription system beginning June 30, so it’s clear iOS readership continues to be an audience that’s important to the company.

Yet overall, those app users will be most affected by the new subscription plan. Apps will still work for iPhone and iPad readers, but they’ll only provide access to the Top News section (remember the Editor’s Choice app? Like that.) and all other content will require a digital subscription. No monthly limit will apply in either app. This, I suspect, might be where the Times sees its biggest decline in readers. Light to moderate app users faced with the choice of becoming a digital subscriber or going back strictly to the web with its broader access, I think most will choose the latter, which could hurt the Times’ ability to attract lucrative advertising deals to the apps.

What’s your take? Will you pay for the privilege of using an app, or just go back to reading on the web?

  1. Not to mention that the NYT iPhone and especially iPad apps are slow and buggy. I am a dedicated NYT reader, but if they expect their readers to put up with their S-L-O-W apps while paying over $200/year for access, they just don’t get it.

  2. They definitely seem to be penalizing people who consume their news digitally. Interestingly, the price of a print subcription, which includes digital access in all formats, is $12 a month less than the all-access digital-only plan. Just arrange for them to be delivered directly into your recycling bin.

    1. That’s a great point, James. I think they must be counting on people not even bothering to consider the price of a print subscription. Whatever the intent, it’s definitely an oddly labyrinthine and unnecessarily complicated pay structure.

      1. I think the second chart on this page http://theunderstatement.com/post/3890398012/the-newspaper-business-implodes explains why The New York Times is pushing print subscriptions so hard. Perhaps you can have the paper delivered to a school or nursing home.

    2. Noticed this too. Their cheapest home delivery option is M-F at $14.80 every 4 weeks… this is less than their cheapest digital subscription, but you get all the benefits of their $30 a month most expensive plan! Seems like they’re hoping their internet readers are kind of stupid.

      1. $14.80 is 50% of their M-F 4-week rate, or $29.60. For $15. one can get digital access Sun-Sat for 4 wks, from a browser from any device. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

  3. After all this time the collective minds at NYT figured this is the best way for them to stay competitive and financially solvent. 20 articles a month? That’s silly.

    I have no problem with wanting to profit from your original content, but come up with a less-confusing model which doesn’t sway people into more print subscriptions. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out most people go for the cheaper option if presented with the same end result. At the end of the day all this really does is increase their print circulation and I’m sure that’s how they figured they could re-generate more revenue. It’s interesting, since they are betting on the fact that people will pay more for convenience.

  4. Too expensive, given that most of the news content is available elsewhere for free.

    I was going to sign up, but not at those prices. I just don’t read enough of the content to justify the expense.

  5. No I won’t pay for the right to use the app. I’ll use the browser on the iPad or better yet just stop reading the NYT

  6. Way too expensive and too complicated. I was also going to sign up, but Here’s why it will fail:
    1. $240 a year in this economy is just too much.
    2. TOo complicated. Why penalize people with separate plans if you have iPhone and iPad? makes absolutely no sense.
    I was thinking more like $50 a year would be reasonable but I guess I am not their demographic (rich white male) am I?

  7. Guess I’ll be reading the NYTimes a heck of a lot less. I guess I’ll find another place for news. I hear good things about something called the internet where I can get lots of news for free.

    I wonder if the Times has heard of it?

  8. Ooh, look – an App to delete from my Canadian iPhone today!

  9. I’ll just read it form the web page, I cannot afford to pay 15-20 bucks per month… no thanks.

  10. Having thought very long and hard, the Times comes up with a plan that shows they still don’t understand digital media. This is all about protecting their existing revenue streams.

    Subscribing on paper is cheaper than the digital options but gives you full digital access because the Times needs to keep its print subscription numbers up. They still make far more on paper advertising the online advertising, so they make up the subscription price difference by keeping a higher subscriber number for the print edition, even if all those papers just go into the recycle bin. Very annoying to those of us who see the iPad as a way of eliminating wasteful, cluttering paper from our lives.


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