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Summary:

The New York Times has finally closed a popular loophole that let readers circumvent its paywall by chopping off the end of a story’s website address.

The New York Times has been using a so-called “metered paywall” for more than a year to limit how many articles a non-subscriber can read. The paywall has been more of a nuisance than a serious obstacle, however, thanks to easy tricks to get around it.

Starting today, though, the Grey Lady is getting tough on the scofflaws by closing one of the more popular loopholes. As New York magazine reports, it’s become harder to zap the “please subscribe” ads that appear in front of a story when you’ve reached your monthly quotient of free stories. Until now, the most popular way to do this was to simply delete the end of the website address.

This easy trick, known to every college student, led some to deride the Times as a technological tyro. People in the news industry, however, say the Times deliberately chose to make the paywall “leaky” so as not to alienate casual visitors. Here is what Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told NY mag today:

“When we launched our digital subscription plan we knew there were loopholes to access our content beyond the allotted number of articles each month. We have made some adjustments and will continue to make adjustments to optimize the gateway by implementing technical security solutions to prohibit abuse and protect the value of our content.”

I contacted Murphy to see if the New York Times will also begin to apply the meter to people who arrive at a Times story by way of social media — an increasingly important source of traffic for news outlets. Update: Murphy replied “not at this time.”

The decision to tighten the paywall comes at a crucial period at which investors are asking if the Times will be able to significantly grow its current digital subscriber base of 640,000. That number has been growing at a healthy base but the Times remains coy about how many of those are discount subscriptions; investors are also asking if the Times can continue to expand this base beyond hardcore NYT fans.

In the bigger picture, paywalls have become much less contentious in 2013 as nearly every newspaper is adopting them in one form or another. Critics like my colleague Mathew Ingram remain skeptical, claiming they drive readers away; he suggests alternatives like letting people pay for special access to certain writers or events.  (Note: We’re going to be talking about alternative monetization strategies at our paidContent Live conference in New York on April 17).

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  1. The paywall has been a very successful move by all standards. It is now more than 12 percent of overall subscription revenue, which is huge if you consider how much of a concern these ‘leaks’ were when the paywall first launched.

    http://statspotting.com/nyt-paywall-statistics-12-percent-of-total-subscription-sales-this-year/

  2. reddittotherescue Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    To get around the new pay wall:
    Open your hosts file, find the entry that reads 127.0.0.1. Add this to the end of that line:
    meter-svc.nytimes.com
    Don’t delete anything from the line, just add this string at the end.
    Restart your browser or clear the cache. Viola, unfettered access.

  3. Paywalls are an attempt to relocate the newspaper’s problem so it becomes the reader’s problem. Surely newspapers can come up with a more customer-friendly solution than that.

  4. I’m gonna bury the Gray Lady. She’s dead to me.

  5. I noticed reading articles on cn.nytimes doesn’t add to the article count.

  6. And now it seems that the NYT has for all practical purposes abandoned the metered model in favor of an old-fashioned 99¢ subscription model with the 10 free article offer relegated to a footnote, in effect, in the FAQ.

  7. “I noticed reading articles on cn.nytimes doesn’t add to the article count.”

    I’ve noticed the same thing for various NYT “blogs” (and the line between NYT “blog” and NYT proper is often so vague as to be non-existent…) – basically there is no meter for many NYT “blogs”.

    The NYT is still playing games – trying to maximize digital subscription revenue (opaquely reported in 10K’s and 10Q’s) while capturing the “drive-by” reader who they need to maximize monthly “uniques” and page views – the base currency of online advertising.

    Keep holding the NYT’s feet to the reporting fire – they are being as deceptive and manipulative in this regard as any journalistic subject they condemn daily.

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