What the New York Times paywall says about Canada

March 17th, 2011  |  Published in Blogs, Business, Jake Heller, Media

By: Jake Heller

Today, the greatest experiment in recent publishing history began. The New York Times, the most revered news organization in the world, erected (hehe) a paywall on its website. Much has already been made of this decision to charge for online content (the most interesting commentary I’ve read is here and here), but what I find most interesting about the announcement is that they’re testing the plan out in Canada before they make everyone else in the world subject to the new rules! Yup, because I’m in England right now, I get unlimited NYT access, but everyone back home only gets access to 20 articles per month!!

This makes no sense. This paywall plan has been in the works for 2-3 years, so there’s no reason why the programming kinks aren’t completely worked out by now. If they’re going to go forward with this idea, they should just do it. Their decision to take a Canadian test run before the judges get out their score cards shows how apprehensive they are about the paywall’s potential success; they want to see how people will react to it before they really dive into the deep end. (Holy mixed sports analogies, Batman!) This decision also says a lot about The New York Times‘ perceptions of Canadians: by testing what is essentially the future of their business (or, as I’m sure they’re hoping, the future of the industry) in Canada, The Times is suggesting that their Canadian audience is a good sample for the rest of their clientele. Interestingly, this can mean one of two things: 1) if their audience is definitively global, then they believe that Canada is representative of the English-speaking world at large; or 2) if they’re more concerned with their American audience, they believe that Canadians are a good proxy for Americans. Hmmm…fits right into this week’s great Canadians vs. Americans debate!

What do you think of the decision?

Oh, one more thing: Poynter has compiled some of the funny reactions to the Canadian test market here, if you’re interested.

And, actually, a second more thing: within hours of the announcement, this wonderful free service popped up to enable people to get around the paywall. Sooo…yeah: I guess people really don’t want to pay for online news.

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