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New York Post Blocks iPad Access Via Safari To Sell Subscriptions

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It must have sounded like a great idea to someone at News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) at the time: “Hey, I know how we can sell more subscriptions through the New York Post iPad App! Let’s block access through iPad Safari and make them go to the app instead.” What they should have heard: “Hey, let’s make our editorial content as inaccessible and irrelevant as possible and send iPad users to other options. Oh, and at the same time, let’s take three giant steps back.”

Even better, apparently no one there noticed or cared that users of other iPad browsers like Skyfire and Opera Mini can slip right in.

It is one of the most poorly conceived paywall efforts I’ve come across — and I’ve seen more than a few.

It was annoying but understandable marketing when the Post pitched the iPad app via an interstitial that popped up whenever you followed a link. (The first few times I wound up skipping the article because it wasn’t clear that I could get to it after seeing the promo.) The Post has been clear from the beginning about wanting to make money from app.

What makes this different from News Corp sibling The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or other news outlets limiting access to digital content in the hopes of gaining subscription revenue? The NYP literally is blocking the web for a subset of users (usually that’s left to totalitarian regimes), targeting the way someone accesses the web to keep readers out. You can’t even see the front page or the day’s front/back cover images. For iPad users relying on Safari, it is as though the site exists only as a billboard for an app.

It’s also broken access from the NYP‘s own Facebook page. Click on a link from within Safari and you end up at the redirect page. The June 17 iPad update brags about adding direct access to from the app as a new feature.

The paper recently discontinued New York Post Pix, its first app, telling users they would have to download the New York Post App for access. The photo app, which was one of the best early iPad apps, was supported by advertising. Nowhere does the notice to download a new app say a paid subscription is required and I never saw any effort to convert users to paid users. (Also, my saved photos were removed.)

Subscription through the app runs $6.99/month, $39.99/six months or $74.99/year; no single-issue option. [To clarify: downloading the app costs $1.99; that comes with 30 days access.) Print subscriptions run $3.50/week, $14/month or $182/year, 22 percent off newsstand. There’s also a $2.50 a week option for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Digital access isn’t included. The NYP offers a separate e-edition through Newspaper Direct that runs up to $26/year.

It feels like a misguided effort to recreate the Post as another Murdoch tabloid, the app-only The Daily. The digital tabloid drew some criticism when it launched earlier this year as an iPad app without a full companion website; instead, users can share some articles online via .pdf. The Daily, designed completely as an in-app paper, plans to launch an Android version. But The Daily treats everyone the same: pay for the app and you get full access.

The NYP is trying to have its virtual cake and eat it, too.

Breaking the web: To Dave Winer, who wrote about the change earlier today, the NYP is “breaking the web”:

Today I was told by the Post that I couldn’t read the article on the web at all. If I wanted to read the Post on my iPad I would have to download the app.

Okay this is bad. This is breaking the web. If no one used the iPad it wouldn’t matter. But lots of people use it.

I wonder how Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) feels about this? I can’t imagine they like it. I can see the ads now. “Get an Android tablet to read the web.”

26 Responses to “New York Post Blocks iPad Access Via Safari To Sell Subscriptions”

  1. LevineR

    From Poynter:
    >>>Poynter colleague Jeff Sonderman points out that as of this morning, the Post has the top paid news iPad app in the App Store — almost certainly as a result of this move.

    Could it be that there’s money to be made by . . .selling things?

    • Staci D. Kramer

      This reflects $1.99 downloads for a trial, not ongoing subscriptions. It’s
      already been proven that apps can sell. The percentage that convert to
      subscription is what matters in the long run.

      • LevineR

        >>>This reflects $1.99 downloads for a trial, not ongoing subscriptions. 

        That’s true. But even if few convert to subscriptions, those $1.99 app sales are worth something. And that’s not counting the readers who bought the physical paper when they were unable to read it online for free. 

        As I said, I don’t know if this will work for the Post. But can it really be “one of the most poorly conceived paywall efforts” you’ve ever seen if it’s driving so many app sales? 

  2. Trying to force the consumer market to do something, to act a certain way by force, is very difficult. Obviously the NYPost is searching for ways to make more revenue from online, mobile, and iPad.  A SMART option is to work with an advertising technology partner, who can help newspaper publishers make more revenue! | Advertising Technology Partner for Publishers, especially newspapers.

  3. NY Post Blocked on my iPad’s Safari? Hallelujah! Whoever pays for Murdoch’s revenue-bleeding rag is sad. The only thing the Post is good for is their brilliant headlines.

  4. LevineR

    While I am not sure whether this strategy makes sense, it no more “breaks the web” than a ticket-taker at a movie theater “breaks the mall.” 

    The outrage is foolish. Some publications pursue a strategy of free content – perhaps Staci would care to comment on how that’s working out for Others want to sell content – which _by definition_ requires restricting access in some way (just as a theatre restricts access to movies in order to sell tickets). We can certainly argue about tactics – is the Post worth paying for, is this the best way to sell it, could that generate more money than online advertising. (I don’t have any of these answers, of course.) But the idea that the Post has no right to restrict the availability of its content – or that doing so “breaks the web” – is just stupid.

    • Staci D. Kramer

      My issue isn’t with publications offering digital subscriptions, limiting access or, like The Daily, launching in a format that doesn’t include a full companion web site. (I subscribe to The Daily, the NYT and numerous others.) What the Post is doing is different by shutting itself off completely to users of a certain browser on a certain device. I’m not suggesting they optimize the browser experience by device as some have done or make everything on the Post website accessible. 

      On the most pragmatic basis, by insisting on an app or nothing, the paper is cutting itself off and breaking the social referrals that it hoped to use to encourage more readership. This would have been a good place to try a metered approach, perhaps. 

      As for me, I personally don’t believe any content is “free” — someone always pays for it: sponsors/advertisers, subscribers, subsidy by the creator in the case of most user-gen either for enjoyment or, in  some cases, marketing, and so on. One of the ideas behind ad-supported content is that enough readers, viewers or listeners “pay” with attention to make it worthwhile. 

      • LevineR

        >>>On the most pragmatic basis, by insisting on an app or nothing, the paper is cutting itself off and breaking the social referrals that it hoped to use to encourage more readership.

        Come on: How much good do those social referrals really do? Among the Post’s likely potential readers in New York, who isn’t familiar with it? Among those who haven’t heard of it, how many are likely potential readers? 

        >>>One of the ideas behind ad-supported content is that enough readers, viewers or listeners “pay” with attention to make it worthwhile.

        This is obvious – but it’s equally obvious that the currency of attention has been devalued in an online world. Simply put, the supply of advertising is no longer limited, while the demand for it still is. (As a percentage of the GDP, U.S. ad spending hasn’t changed much since the fifties.) That’s why most online ads are worth less than a tenth of what they would be in print – and why papers like the Guardian, which drink the free-content Kool Aid, are bleeding money. 

        Although I have doubts about whether the Post’s strategy will work, it’s time to try something else.

  5. SteveL

    Murdoch is doing this in the UK too.  Both The Times and The Sun newspapers are both pay-to-view now, which effectively means they are offline for most of the country. They aren’t quoting sell-through figures so it’s impossible to determine whether or not this is working.

    It may be that advertising isn’t profitable enough on-line, and presumably craigslist has killed the small ads sections. Maybe going to paid web copies of stuff that is also available in print is enough to stop their web content cannibalising the print business. But it means their content has dropped off the web: it no longer exists

  6. Greg Fitzgerald

    You can still read the Post via Safari on any computer.  I would agree that it seems a bit capricious to single out iPad users with this exclusivity policy, but newspapers have got to find a way to pay their reporters and editors, and it’s not cheap to launch an iPad app for a major newspaper.  Perhaps if they created a paywall similar to the Times where a limited amount of content was available each month before a subscription was required….

  7. Best Practice?

    What does everyone think of an interstitial or roadblock that simply promotes the app (including special features in a native app not available via wed) but then has a “no thanks, take me to the web” button/option??

  8. If you’re going to copy and paste a quote into your article, you might want to check to see whether it brought anything with it first, like the two instances of “Permanent link to this item in the archive.”

  9. SerenityLodge

    Well, I don’t own an iPad,yet. However, on my iPhone 4, I have no problem accessing NYP with Safari. So I kinda doubt this story.

    • The whole story centers around iPads being blocked. You admit to not having one, but since you have no problem accessing the website from an iPhone 4, which was not mentioned in the article, you proceed to cast doubt over the complete story?


  10. Even if the Yew York Post blocks access via Safari they wont be able to sell enough subscriptions to save the newspaper. There is no need to read newspapers on an iPad when they are all on the open Internet.

  11. Lachlan

    Easy to defeat – just type: and you go straight past it.

    Looks like a rubbish publication so not sure why you’d bother anyway.

  12. Brain Hertz

    It’s even dumber than it sounds; the browser self-identifies to the server in a non-secure way. The “user agent” string that the browser sends along is just a helpful hint to the website in case it needs to work around any quirks of particular browsers.

    Most browsers have a plugin available that allows the user to decide how they want to identify themselves. For instance, if you’re using Firefox you can just decide to tell the server that you’re actually using Opera or IE.I don’t have an iPad, so I can’t say for sure that there’s a plugin for iPad Safari that allows users to identify themselves as using something else, but I’d be kind of shocked if there wasn’t.