Scaling the NYT pay wall

I miss the New York Times.

I spent the last hour of March 27, the day before their pay wall went up on March 28, frantically reading as many articles as I could. I read articles about Libya, about the budget, even their obscure science and health sections that I rarely looked at before. I followed every precious link they posted to Twitter from my Blackberry, carefully absorbing each beloved word. I knew that I could not afford the $3.75 a week that would give me a digital subscription and unlimited access to the Times website.

$3.75 a week equates to $15 per month, which equals what I spend on food per week. It is also the equivalent of buying a latte every week, as my journalism professor, a strong supporter of the Times, pointed out. But I always make my own coffee, spending roughly $2.78 on creamer every week at Price Chopper and a maybe $4 every month and a half on a canister of black coffee.

But $15 per week also equals $180 per year, which equals more than the paycheck I receive every two weeks from my minimum wage job as a desk attendant. It is also $20 short of two car insurance payments to my father. Added into that, I only work as a desk attendant roughly eight months a year. I have four months of every year where I must rely on the money that I save from said desk paychecks for gas money and any extras that my parents exclude from the category of "necessities."

So yes, $180 does put a bit of a strain on my budget when I am trying to put aside money for my summer living expenses as a unpaid intern in Washington D.C. this summer. And I highly doubt that my father will tell me to forgo paying two car insurance payments so that I can enjoy the benefits of being a New York Times digital subscriber.

If I don’t subscribe to a digital subscription of the Times, I’ll still be able to view their homepage and access 20 articles a month for free. If I follow a link to a Times article from a search engine after I’ve reached the 20 articles, I can access an additional five articles per day. The same rules appear to apply for Twitter, Facebook and other social media applications.

Even though there is some wiggle room with the pay wall, I find myself moving away from the New York Times links when they appear in my Twitter feed. As a "former" [sadly] consumer of the Times, I would read most of the articles in the newspaper’s front section online and periodically check back for updates through Twitter. I would easily exceed the 20-articles-per-month limit in a single day.

There are benefits to becoming a digital subscriber, namely the unlimited access I would receive for the application I have on my Blackberry. I’d also receive access to 100 1923-1986 archived articles per week, a very appealing offer to a self-described news junkie. Thinking about it now, I am almost reaching into my wallet and pulling out my credit card to enter that 16-digit number that would make me an official digital subscriber to the New York Times. The quality is definitely worth the cost.

But then I remember the $180 per year and the amount of times I could put gas in my car for that money. Or how many trips to Price Chopper it would fund. As someone who forgoes the more expensive brand of pasta in favor of the generic solution, $180 could go quite a long way at Price Chopper.

I understand the New York Times’ reasoning behind making readers pay for their content. There is no reason why content should be free to web viewers, while others pay hundreds of dollars a year to have the newspaper delivered to their home every day or weekend. I also understand that newspapers are losing business and advertising and are trying very hard to maintain a certain income so that they can pay their employees and not have to get rid of quality journalism. I’m an aspiring journalist and I cringe every time I read about more layoffs and see names disappear from the contact list at the newspaper I interned at this past summer. The industry is in trouble and they need to make difficult decisions to stay afloat. But why then, did the New York Times make all their content free in the first place?

By establishing a free content zone that has existed for years and then abruptly pulling the carpet out from under it, the New York Times is making a pretty shoddy business decision. With the use of social media to entice younger readers to explore their content, the New York Times has been trying to access a younger demographic. A younger demographic who will probably turn up their nose when they learn that they have to pay for content they are used to receiving for free.

Maybe the New York Times should establish a sliding scale for digital subscriptions, allowing readers to pay for subscriptions based on the amount of income. I’d have a lot easier of a time paying a dollar a week or $48 per year for the digital subscription. I wouldn’t even think twice about it.

The New York Times is struggling to maintain its quality despite a harsh economic climate. As a college student, I’m struggling with money too. Maybe The New York Times should reach out to its younger readership and try to strike some sort of agreement. That way, we both get the best end of the deal.