Hours after The New York Times announced on Thursday the long-awaited details of its plan to start charging for web access, the paper of record is trying to acclimate its readers to the idea of paying for at least a segment of its online content.
In other words, for the legions of faithful readers of the Times' digital edition, it's decision time.
Starting March 28, regular nytimes.com visitors who don't already subscribe to the paper will have a range of options for continuing to access the site's content once they've maxed out the 20 freebies The Times will give away every 30 days. (How many Times articles have you clicked on in the past month? You can keep track here.)
Here's a rundown of the pertinent choices. Times readers can elect, first, to do what the paper's executives have been trying to get them to do all along: Take out a subscription to either the full print edition or the cheaper Weekender package. Both those plans come with a complimentary digital subscription to all the paper's online content. Second, Times readers can sign up for one of three monthly digital subscription packages, the cheapest of which costs $15/month for web and mobile phone access. Still more frugal-minded users can hold out for third-party links to Times material on blogs and social media, since there is no monthly article limit for Times readers entering the site through those channels. (In other words, you could read 500 Times pieces online in one month as long as links on Facebook or Twitter send you to each of them.)
To judge by The Cutline's entirely casual and unscientific survey of several dozen Times-reading friends and colleagues, ranging in age from their mid-20s to mid-50s, a significant portion of readers are eyeing that third option.
"The articles being socialized are generally the only ones I'd want to go out of my way to read," said a 26-year-old blogger who plans to skirt the paid system. "If my core group of influencers are talking about them, I'd want to be, or inevitably would be, as well."
A 31-year-old who works in finance said he doesn't "think this is a bad move for The Times," but nevertheless: "I only use [the website] now because it's also free. Other free resources are providing the same content, and if I can get the same info via a link, that's wonderful."
A 29-year-old newspaper reporter who won't be purchasing a digital sub said: "Paying for on-line publications makes me feel like I'm pissing my money away, even when it comes to the New York Times. I need some tangible product that I can look at and say, 'yes, this is what you spent your money on.' "
Ditto a 29-year-old attorney: "There are other reputable news sources that are free, and the editorials on the Times page, if they are of worth, will be passed around via social media."
A 32-year-old web editor who responded to our inquiry about ponying up for online access with an emphatic, "No," went so far as to suggest that the new pay model technology will end up being more trouble for The Times than it's worth.
"I predict the Times will spend more money playing catch-up and patching loopholes than it will make in subscriptions, so they'll realize they need to fade it out while trying to do some face-saving move to make it appear like it's still in place," she proposed.
Meanwhile, a 30-year-old grad student who lives abroad pointed us to Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy's remark in the comments section that the site will remain free for students. "So I will not be paying," the student said.
But if several of our respondents are any indication, The Times can expect to lure some new print edition converts.
"I would consider getting the Weekender package," said a 31-year-old publicist. "I used to get this option, and I do miss having the Sunday Times with all the good sections."
This was also the verdict delivered by a 30-year-old magazine editor who appears to be suffering from a mild case of non-subscriber anxiety.
"I feel guilty not giving the Times something, anything even, since the publication has been an enjoyable, reliable news source for me for a long time," he said. "If I go that route, I'd opt for the Weekender. Getting the Times delivered daily is just too much of a commitment, but I love sitting down and reading and touching a big heaping mess of stories on the weekends with breakfast and coffee. That's porn for me."