The internet has been abuzz about the NYT’s new pay wall. Basically, after reading 20 articles in a month, you need to pay for a subscription to keep on reading. But there is one big exception: You can read 5 articles a day from Google searches and an unlimited number of articles from social media, blog, and news outlet links. This exception seems like a smart loophole to put in so that good content can be widely read, but it may be the lynchpin of the entire strategy.
Say you write an entertainment blog and post 1 original article every day and 3 interesting links. You get a lot of readers who come to you for your interesting writing style and insightful take on events in entertainment, and because you comb through a lot of different news media to find interesting stories/articles other people wrote for your readers to read.
To find 3 really good articles to share every day, you need to read 15 articles a day (this is probably a low estimate). Some of those articles will help come up with a topic for your original article and educate you enough to write about it, but say you need to find 5 older articles for background material. So you need to read ~600 articles a month total.
Where do you find this content? You probably have a daily list of news sites that you check for the latest stories, and you probably follow a couple of other blogs related to entertainment in case they find something you didn’t see, so that you don’t get left out of industry buzz. After seeing a short press report about Lindsay Lohan’s latest trail appearance, you decide to write about the challenges of growing up in Hollywood.
In checking your usual sites you see that the New York Times just did an excellent profile of Miranda Cosgrove that touches on that issue and will give you a lot of background material to use and react to. You see they have a bunch of archived original reporting on Lindsay for you to quickly check your facts with, and a slideshow of her court outfits for you to grab a picture from. In total you click through 5 articles.
If that was a typical day, you would read ~150 articles a month (about 25% of what you need to read in total in a month to publish good blog content and keep your readers coming back).
Those articles save you a lot of time and help you create a great product. So even though your readers might never be willing to pay the New York Times for content, you are, because it is an essential ingredient in your own content creation process.
But that’s just the beginning. Because the pay wall keeps your readers from seeing more than a fraction of the content you see, you create even more value for your readers in a pay wall world when you select articles to link to. In essence, you are using your subscription to skim and filter the New York Times for articles worth reading (like you always have) AND then giving your readers free access to that good content by linking to it.
Therein lays the potential brilliance. The New York Times created a strategy where the heaviest users, the ones who most need or want news pay for it. For everyone else, you only get little bit of news, unless one of the heavy users points you to an article. As a casual reader, you are even more tied to services like bloggers and aggregators to point you to articles so that not only are you only reading the best articles, but you are reading them for free. As a heavy user, that increased reliance on you means you are even more willing to pay. The pay wall only makes the most diehard customers pay, and gives them even more reason to pay. Smart.