(Photo by Alex Torrenegra)
Summary of my view: It’s a great idea, but executing it properly will be extremely difficult.
If you didn’t hear – The New York Times is going to “meter” access to their site. Readers will be able to view a certain number of articles per month for free, after which they’ll have to pay.
I didn’t even know about the Financial Times meter before last week when I first read rumors about the NYT takes the same approach. I occasionally read articles at FT, and have occasionally linked to articles there. Their meter gives me no trouble.
So that’s where execution gets tricky. Start making the meter more effective, less easy to route around, and you’re likely to end up making it a lot more intrusive to casual readers. There’s already something of a blogger backlash against the plan, and if the meter ends up being cumbersome, the Times could find their casual readership dropping off (and their advertising revenues declining).
And that’s to say nothing of people outright pirating their articles through copy and paste. If they start trying to implement means to keep people from copying and pasting the text from their articles, they risk alienating their customers even more.
So yes, it will be tricky to pull off. With a sufficiently generous meter (20 articles a month seems reasonable), affordable access rates (I’d be great if they also had some metered plans – say 50 articles a month for $5, instead of having to buy unlimited access), unobtrusive technology, and, of course, high quality content, they could have a winning business model on their hands. (I’d also encourage them to offer free unlimited access to libraries, schools, charities, etc., as well as to visitors from developing nations.) But it will be a hard balance to pull off, especially if NYT bigwigs push for tight security and restrictions.
See also: Paid content has a good look at the ends and out of it.