Blog Post

New York Times closes another loophole in its digital paywall

Look out, media cheapskates — the New York Times(s nyt) is losing patience with your skinflint ways. After imposing a metered paywall last year to restrict how many articles non-subscribers can read for free, the Times is clamping down on popular tricks to get around the wall.

The latest casualty is NYClean, a bookmarklet that lets readers zap away “over the limit” messages that appears in front of Times stories. I discovered the change on Monday when, after having reached my monthly quota of 10 free stories, I tried and failed to use NYClean to read another story. The tool (see the arrow) zapped the message for a second but then the message came right back:

NYT paywal

This is the second time in as many months that the Times has shut down a trick to evade its meter; in February, readers discovered they could no longer access a blocked story by chopping off the end of the article’s website address. Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy explained the situation this way:

“As we have said from the time we launched our digital subscription model, we are aware of various loopholes to access our content beyond the allotted number of articles each month. It remains a priority for us to protect the value of our content so we will continue to make adjustments to optimize the gateway through technical security solutions.”

The new restrictions come at a time of increased acceptance of metered paywalls. In recent months, popular blogger (and paidContent Live guest) Andrew Sullivan introduced a meter — now at $1.99 a month — while longtime paywall holdout the Washington Post said it will launch one this summer.

The Times’ get-tough measures create dilemmas for readers like me who are running out of workarounds. I like the New York Times but, since I already pay hundreds of dollars a year for a Wall Street Journal subscription, I am not in a position to shell out full fare for a second paper. Perhaps the Times will introduce a grazing option (say 50 articles for $5) or introduce paywall partnerships across publications.

49 Responses to “New York Times closes another loophole in its digital paywall”

  1. I just found that I can get around the paywall by setting my browser (Internet Explorer 9, I think, operating on a Windows 8 laptop) to “InPrivate”.

  2. Seriously? All the information of the world is elsewhere for the asking. The only reason I even saw something from the NYT is because it came back in a Google search. No more. I blocked them from my search results.

    Unless the NYT can deliver eyeballs to advertisers, they are doomed. Telling people like me to go away is a *very* bad way to do that. They barely had a chance to get me to look and they blew it.

    The comments here are full of nonsense conflating copyrighted text with tangible goods. Either the people commenting are horribly deluded by spending too much time with tainted media sources like the NYT or they are plants. I suspect a bunch of them are just astroturfing plants.

    Infringing a copyright is infringing a copyright. Stealing is stealing. They are not the same thing. Pursuing an analogy beyond the point where it entirely breaks down may fool some people, but it does not fool me and it should not fool you.

    If you want to get rid of paywalls, vote with your feet. Send a message. Punish the NYT by permanently walking away. That is what I am doing.

    I spend all day long on the Internet and I *never*, not *ever* pay for content. If you think about it, Google gives you a ton of value and all they ask is that you go to them for search results. They make a *ton* of money doing this.

    It is time to take away the supports and let old media and other entrenched rent-seekers wither and die. They destroy far more value than they create.

  3. Well said. If someone wants to give away their creations without charging, that is that person’s choice. Yet when someone chooses to take something that is being sold without paying for it and complains that someone is making it hard to steal that content, that’s hypocrisy.

  4. Lauren Barton

    Why you’re under the impression that you’re entitled to “a work-around” is a mystery.

    I look forward to more trenchant articles like this in PaidContent — you can cover your your techniques for sneaking into movie theaters, shoplifting books, and xeroxing magazines.

    You may not like the Times’ pricing model, but your option then is simply not to read it, not to steal. You have no inherent right to their content. This is even more offensive because you can afford it just fine, but you’ve chosen to give your money to their competitor.

    Yes, we all know that it’s possible, even easy, to subvert the Times’ paywall. It’s also easy to pirate music or steal DirecTV. What eventually happens in these cases where it’s difficult to use technology to secure the product is that the companies choose legal, non-technical ways to start pursuing theft.

    Then you’ll be nervous you’ll get caught, and the idea of writing an article about how difficult it is for poor little you will be as strange an idea as writing an article about how you’re having trouble stealing the new Iron Man movie.

  5. Fred Gonk

    I think the answer to the dilemma of how online publications can become profitable lies not in charging readers, but in charging advertisers more.

    IMO as a copywriter with years of experience, the internet has the potential to be the most effective advertising medium yet invented.

    Online ads can invite direct sales, and these sales can be tracked. In addition, cookies and the like can enable targeted messages based on the sites a reader visits or the stories he or she reads.

    Plus online ads can now incorporate sound and video.

    As usual in the Land of Inopportunity, however, the burden of making websites pay has fallen to the little guy, rather than the corporations with the deep pockets (and the overpaid management and shareholders).

    Someday, after the revolution, perhaps this injustice will also be addressed. In the meantime, Chrome users and other clever surfers know how to circumvent these frustrating paywalls…

  6. I wonder how many of the jerks explaining about how to circumvent the paywall are also writers and journalists searching for some way to be paid for their work? I bet 99% of the readership here is in the business. If so many people here are proudly talking about how to sneak around the paywall, then the idea of “paid content” is looking more and more like a mirage.

  7. i like the times a lot but if i add up the cost of digital subscriptions to all the main website i read i would be paying over a $100 a month

    they need to create a syndicate that shares revenue and gives different levels of plans

    but, lets face it, there are dozens of browsers, if they setting cookies it easy to rotate among them for reading or simply use one and clear cookies and web bugs

    at some point the times is going to face the rubicon and decide whether they want to require a subscriber log-in to read and really be behind a paywall like WSJ

    but WSJ has a specialized audience … i doubt that the the time wants to take itself off the web to that degree

  8. You can read all the free NYT articles you want online, through a newsbank connection with your local library. Too bad most people who are online are too stupid to realize this because they no longer visit libraries and have become slaves to digital.

  9. watermark0n

    I don’t care if NYT clamps down on their actual papers content, but doing the same to their blogs as well is extremely infuriating. 538 using to be one of many free blogs on the internet, now NYT snapped them up and you can’t read anything there without either hacking or paying. Why should you have to pay to read a blog?

  10. Jack Murphy

    What the above poster mention was cmd-shift-n on chrome will open incognito mode. You can also just right click (ctrl click for mac), and open any link in a new incognito window.

    As many know, incognito mode does not store cookies.

    From Google:
    All new cookies are deleted after you close all incognito windows that you’ve opened.

    It would seem the NYTimes paywall uses technology as advanced as an intro to javascript class. It’s almost insulting to users who are enticed into paying because of the obfuscating overlay.

  11. Interestingly enough, as I, and many others, predicted, blogger Andrew Sullivan has now reached the point where all the people willing to pay have paid. Last I read, about a month ago, that would not be enough to support his blog. The current news is, he’s trying to find a way to fix the problem.

    Every publisher in the country needs to take note. Paywall is a very short term solution. You’ll get a pile of money at first but when you have reached the end where you can’t add subscribers faster than you lose them (same dilemma they faced in print) you will have to do something about it. Great content is not going to be your solution. It’s just your starting point for now, this moment, when you are planning to start your paywall and trying to find a way to make readers want to pay.

    The longer you lock people out of that great content, the fewer are aware of it or that they even *want* it. And, you also simply reach a point where there are not enough who subscribe and your ride is over.

    Many of you have built a substantial following among “commenters” and created a community forum below each news story where it can be discussed and even elected officials can listen in and take the pulse of the community. That will go away in large part because it is restricted to those who can pay and who are willing to tie their real name to it via having to pay by credit card or check for access even though they post under anonymous names… still, the newspaper will know who they are and this may not be good if they are elected or heads of companies, or even if they are employees. Some would lose their job if their opinion was opposite to that of the boss.

    Paywall is a stopgap solution that will go away as fast as it started. When the first few drop their paywalls, there will be a stampede. It will not be so easy to rebuild what you took away from readers when you went to the paywall.

    Newspaper publishers were behind the times in business strategy from the moment the Web showed up and they arrogantly rejected it.

    Whether some can break through the paywall or not isn’t the issue. The issue is, this is not a permanent solution and you need to be figuring out what is before your paywall ride comes to a crashing end and you go with it.

  12. Bridget

    If time is money, why are we willing to spend so much time trying to get around a paywall? Someone is working to gather all that content for you. Throw them a bone!

  13. Count Schemula

    I thought the smart play for the NYT was to make the rates a lot more affordable and not mess with device restrictions. It’s a website. All you are really selling is access to something that already exists and you produce daily.

    Now they are in the news for paywall hacking, not journalism. Their ads get less eyeballs and their columnists are less read, their articles are less commented on and their overall influence is less.

    The Economist got my money.

  14. What did people do before they got the content for free from the web? Go to the library and read the papers there? Go through the garbage at train stations in hope of finding one without too much coffee and banana stains?

    • Shared subscriptions among neighbors. Bought one at the news stand occasionally if there was something in the paper that mattered to them. There always were and always are going to be people who cannot afford to pay for newspapers. Being snide and holier-than-thou isn’t going to change that.

      • Once upon a time I was one of those people who scrounged for a free paper or went to the library, At the least, I could justify recycling because someone did pay for that paper I was reading AND because the NYTimes included a projected number of users in their ad rates. Simply because it’s on the web doesn’t mean it should be free any more than the fruit stand on the avenue of a big city’s fruits should be taken without being paid for because nobody is standing outside watching.

    • Good point. What DID people do before the internet? One either bought the paper or did without. There’s a lot of content out there on the internet. Some say too much (can you have too much?) I my opinion, a lot of it should be free. But should we hold the NYTimes or WSJ or Washington Post to the same standard? Quality, professionalism, integrity make a case for content that cost a few bucks.

      • What did people do before the Internet? If you had a good local daily, it subscribed to several newspaper syndicates that might include one or more major newspapers, and it reprinted major stories from the NYT, Boston Globe, etc., on its own pages.

        Mind you, the editors of your local paper had to decide they wanted to run the story, but nevertheless. Then there was the public library, and trying to beat out the usual idlers for the paper you wanted. The competition was intense.

    • Peekaboo Avenue

      In fact, yes, and don’t be so scornful. I’ve read the NYTimes at the public library, at coffeeshops, and I’ve picked it out of recycling bins. I also know where to go on different campuses where they give out free papers.

      Just because someone can’t afford to subscribe to a paper does not mean we all wish to be ill-informed.

  15. It might sound nuts, but the large papers might benefit from entering into a bundling agreement, much like cable tv does. You get these 3 different publications for a flat price…. The effect might be netting a little less, but getting a greater volume of customers.

    It might be a more interesting approach because users have been used to reading numerous publications for free.

    It’s just another angle at selling the product.

    • I think your idea makes a lot of sense. I would pay for, say, a bundling of The New York Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal. I don’t have a problem paying for online access to the Times, I just think $195/year is too much to pay for one news source and have told them so.

      They seem to want individual subscribers to pick up the slack in lower ad rates when in fact having more subscribers would give them more leverage with advertisers. I think they have their business model back asswards.

    • HubbaHubba

      you’re an idiot. the solution there is a different browser, not the URL chop. NYTimes can’t tell if you’re using 5 different browsers on your one PC. each browser will appear to them to be a different person.

    • Joe Blow

      No Hubba Hubba, you’re the idiot.

      Nice way to treat Joe, btw.

      They help to identify you by IP address, not browser. Cookies also (after all, many IP addresses are dynamic). When an IP address runs up its allotted number, then it’s done for the time period.

  16. Randall

    Since they put the paywall in place they’ve said that following a link from FaceBook or a Google search would not count against your monthly limit.

    They lied.

  17. Mike Forester

    The cheapest rate remains Sunday-only home delivery, as Frank Rich pointed out last year. $4/week for the first 16 weeks, $8/week thereafter. Full access to the website.