New York Times Paywall Goes Live, Newspapers Take Notes

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The New York Times is erecting a paywall Monday to charge online readers. Until now, readers have been getting the newspaper’s digital content for free.

One place that’s going to be watching carefully how successful the new model proves to be is the Boston Globe. It will launch a similar system in the fall. WBUR’s business and technology reporter Curt Nickisch joined Morning Edition Monday to talk about what’s at stake.

Bob Oakes:What are New York Times readers and subscribers waking up to this morning?

Curt Nickisch: When people go online or use their smartphones or tablet computers to read the Times, they’re going to be able to do that just like they did Sunday. But there’s a counter running, and as soon as you hit 20 articles, you can’t look at any more — unless you pay. And so for about what you pay for a cocktail in Manhattan — $15 — you get unlimited Web access for the month. When here in Boston last month, the Times company CEO Janet Robinson said the time for this is right, just look at how consumers are willing to buy electronic books:

And users of digital devices are certainly comfortable paying for music and videos online. People are paying for apps. And we believe with more quality paid content available, they will use their purchasing power to pay for news they need and trust on the various devices they own.

We know the Times company owns the Boston Globe. It also owns the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, which has a paywall already. If readers are willing to pay for content, why is the Globe waiting until the fall to do the same?

It has to do with boston.com, which happens to be one of the most successful newspaper sites in the country. And partly it’s because it’s not that newspapery — sure, you can read the articles from Globe on there, but many users go for sports scores and weather and pictures of cute penguins at the New England Aquarium. Globe Publisher Chris Mayer said they really have two audiences:

Those who are really looking for boston.com to be a portal in to access Boston, and those who want a digital experience that is more around long-form journalism. And so we looked at those markets and that created an opportunity for us.

So to match those two audiences, Mayer plans to roll out bostonglobe.com this fall alongside boston.com. And that’s why it’s taking longer to set up.

What’s the difference?

Boston.com would remain free, but it’s going to lose most of the newspaper articles it has. It will still have sports and weather cute penguins and breaking news, and it will have advertising. Bostonglobe.com will have the newspaper’s reporting, and if you don’t already subscribe to the paper, you’ll have to pay.

So what can the Globe learn from the New York Times rolling out its paywall Monday?

In a way, the Times isn’t that different because it is free up to 20 articles a month. So the Globe is going to be watching how well the Times converts those people who are running up against that 20 article per month limit, because the Globe is going to have that, too.

If you go to bostonglobe.com, it won’t just be an empty screen where you log in. It will show some of the articles, tease you with some of the content, with the hopes that you’ll be willing to shell out to read and see the rest. And finally, the Globe is going to keep an eye on how leaky the New York Times paywall is — namely, just how easy it is for people to find ways around the system.

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