Friday, March 18, 2011

New York Times paywall: the dawn of social media tethering?

Readers who land at the NYT site via social media links will still be allowed to read the full article.

Thus, it will make sense for people to search, not for a link directly to a NYT article (which will continue to be metered/monitored/limited), but for commentary in a social media site that links back to the article.

If your work regularly consults the New York Times, you can become essentially an NYT tether - your readers can continue to access New York Times articles through your references.

Hitching a ride

The New York Times knows that the paper subscription base will continue to erode, and the electronic space will continue to grow. Engaging the electronic space by hitching a ride on social media is a smart way to leverage the popularity and reach of social media venues to build the future readership where they are and drive their advertising revenues in the internet era.

Transform to stay relevant ("the more things change, the more they stay the same")

This move resonates with me on many levels. Sure. It might not work. Social media guru Paul Gillin's web site is aptly titled and skillfully documents the sunset of the paper era of news dissemination/distribution. As I discussed previously, "news" is alive and well, it's the "paper" part that is dying. The challenge to media outlets is to transform to stay relevant, and the leadership position of the New York Times can only stay the same if they do some things differently and not continue to think they can depend on paper as the primary form of distribution.

A nod to the blogosphere

This move should elevate the value of the blogosphere - on the way to reading a New York Times article for free, visitors of a social media site will be exposed to that commentary, so that the social media content creators become a part of the conversation in a subtle new way; rather than read an article and then get down to the comments, people will see commentary before getting to the article. Obviously, it's a good idea for bloggers to get their New York Times subscriptions, so that they have full access to whatever articles they themselves are referencing; without it, they might miss context or that quote that either strengthens their views or refutes them, and not being aware of these would lower the merit quotient of writing. Thus, the symbiotic relationship would be confirmed, the circle complete - the New York Times would be generating subscription revenues from bloggers, and bloggers would be positioned as distributors, in a manner of speaking.

Win win

There are plenty of articles out there covering this development, and for good reason - the New York Times is a venerable media icon. One of the gambles the company is picking up is that the unique content of the NYT journalists will be valued by the public and paid for. If not, it could go the way of the growing list of papers on Mr. Gillin's site. The key take-away here is that social media comes out on top either way:

  • if the NYT succeeds, it will credit its piggybacking on social media as a great piece of the strategy;
  • if it fails, it will be due to the relentless march of the internet.
It's no secret that a free press is important. The extent to which citizen journalism contributes to the concept of a free press is an ongoing debate, but the access to distribution that today's internet provides is known - anybody can write, whether to an audience of thousands, hundreds, or five. Professional journalism is a valued piece of the media puzzle, and if journalism as an institution can figure out how to remain viable in the modern world, the world is a better place for it. We'll be following these developments at the New York Times with keen attention.