New York Times Limits Free Content: Social Media Implications?

On March 18, 2011, the New York Times announced that the company is transitioning from a free content to paid-subscription model. The first wave of digital subscriptions began in Canada on the day of the announcement, and the second wave will take place on March 28 for the United States and international audiences. As of March 28, The Times will charge a fee for unlimited access, and according to the Times, the change will affect individuals who consume a significant amount of online content.

The following key changes will take place:

  • NYTimes.com visitors can view 20 articles per month, free of charge. After a user views 20 articles, slide shows, or videos, NYTimes.com will ask them to become a subscriber.
  • Smartphone and tablet apps will keep the Top News section available for free. Other sections require a digital subscription package.
  • New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free and unlimited access to NYTimes.com.
  • The NYTimes.com homepage and section fronts will remain free for unlimited browsing.

The New York Times is a major leader in online journalism, influencing the social media circles of a variety of demographic groups. Understanding its role within social media, the New York Times has explicitly addressed potential issues of inhibited social media sharing:

"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."

For the newspaper and journalism industry, balancing free content and monetization strategies is tough. While users gravitate towards free content, display advertising is not always a sustainable business model.

The New York Times is setting a precedent that redefines the newspaper's role in online communities. Will readers pay for the Times, or will they begin to gravitate towards free sources? Will the New York Times maintain its leadership within the social media sphere, or will users begin sharing content from other major and less-major news sources? Will other major journalism outlets follow in the NYTimes's footsteps? What about the New York Times blog?

The following are pricing plans for NYTimes.com: $15 per month for NYTimes.com and the smartphone app, $20 permonth for NYTimes.com and the tablet app, and $35 per month for all digital access.

Is the New York Times instigating the next phase of online journalism, or will it be excluding certain demographics from accessible content?

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