The New York Times announced the parameters of its much-anticipated digital subscription service to subscribers via e-mail. Beginning March 28 in the United States (Canada gets a ten-day head start to act as guinea pig), anyone who is not a home-delivery subscriber will be allowed access to up to 20 articles, slide shows, videos or other features each month after which they will be asked to pay a monthly subscription fee of $20.
Anyone who gets home delivery will have free access to the online or iPad versions of the paper for free.
All the main section pages and the front page will be free for everyone. The story content is what costs; however, there is one rather odd exception:
Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.
In essence, if you don't go to NYT stories through its Web site, you don't have to pay.
That raises the question: Just how much money can they expect to make if links from external sources lead to free content? More importantly, how do they prevent someone from aggregating their content on a regular basis using a blog or Twitter feed? If the Times thinks that everyone will be willing to pay for things they can get for free, they probably should have a talk with the music industry, which has seen revenue drop precipitously since file traders began sharing MP3's.
There is also no successful model on which to base an online newspaper subscription service. A handful of publications have attempted them with mixed results and the general feeling is, once the content is out there for free, it's nearly impossible to get visitors to agree to pay for it.
It's a quandary for publishers looking for alternate sources of income and ways to become less reliant upon a shrinking online advertising market. No doubt they will be keeping a close eye on how things go for the Old Gray Lady, figuring if anyone can make a subscription service successful, The New York Times can.