Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., has been making the media conference rounds a lot lately to talk up the metered paywall coming to NYTimes.com next January, so it’s not surprising he didn’t have much to add in the way of new details in his closing appearance at the Conversational Media Summit. But the chairman of the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) did try to tamp down concerns that the meter will interfere with the site’s social media efforts. The number of articles a reader will be able to access before the meter clicks in is still to be determined, but he echoed comments by other NYT execs that an article shared between Facebook users and other social sharing would probably remain free.
Although he said that social media would not cause the NYTimes.com meter to click, Sulzberger’s tone initially appeared non-committal. But as his interlocutor, Federated Media’s John Battelle, — and later, an audience questioner — sought to pin him down, he seemed more definitive. Battelle also inquired about how porous the paywall would ultimately be: after all, could people just clear their cookies and start the meter over from the beginning? “You’re going to be responsible for the greatest wave of cookie deletion ever,” Battelle laughed. “There has always been and will always be ways to get around not paying for a newspaper,” Sulzberger responded. “You could steal a newspaper from a stand today, if you really wanted to.”
There are a few options of paying for digital content that are not regarded as too onerous. For example, Battelle noted that he’s a happy NYT Kindle edition subscriber. But Battelle said he hates being asked to subscribe to the same content on different devices. Sulzberger said that the company is looking at that issue, but didn’t have a satisfying answer today. In any case, there’s a lot of free NYT content available now, such as the iPad Editor’s Choice app, which Sulzberger said has been downloaded about 350,000 times in the past two months.
Aware the the NYT is prepping a paid app in conjunction with the metered paywall, Battelle said that it sounds like the drug-dealer model, a notion that Sulzberger had some fun with, joking that users will get three hits for free and “then we’ll make you pay for it.”