Recently, The New York Times made waves as it became the first newspaper to enforce a paywall, limiting access to content on the paper's website. While it seems the famous newspaper has, at least temporarily, stopped the hemorrhaging of free content via its digital format, the enforcement of the paywall left some scratching their head, or looking for the best hack.
For those still trying to catch up with the paywall concept, the New York Times has created subscription levels for a variety of users. Those who pay for a hard copy of the Times receive free unlimited access to all content on the companion website, those who choose not to subscribe to the hard copy are given the option of paying a subscription fee for access to content available on NYTimes.com, and still others are allowed free, but limited, access to content found via search engines. Finally, users who access NYTimes.com content via links produced through social sharing or integration (Facebook/Twitter shares or 'like'? button clicks) are given free, unlimited access to content as long as the origin of the click through to NYTimes.com is from Facebook or Twitter.
While on its face this seemingly benign preference for users referred via social sharing/integration might not seem meaningful, the reward of free content for social media users can have huge implications for readers, competing newspapers, and yes, even marketers. So why is the New York Times so eager to give social media all the love? Here are some ideas:
Connecting with Who You Want to Reach on Their Own Turf is Important
Back in 2007, the New York Times reported on its own potential demise when publishing information from a Harvard study citing an underwhelming 16% of young adults aged 18 ' 30 actually read the newspaper. Though social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were just beginning to build their active users, the newspaper in its print form was already struggling to connect with younger audiences. Today, social media is an inherent part of a young person's life. It seems obvious, in an effort to secure longevity by reaching younger and younger audiences, incentivizing readership and sharing by offering free content would be the way to go.
Many have attached the ominous 'for now'?¦'? when describing the Times choice for allowing free access through social links, but to address the potential for what I (and I'm sure others) like to call the '$5 Footlong Phenomenon'? would require a completely different blog post.
Let's move on to something a little bit more'?¦ innovative.
The Value of a Facebook Like or Twitter Share > $1.25 for a Daily Paper
This sounds crazy, right? Just hear me out. Marketers have done some stretching to assign a dollar value to a Facebook user or like in the hopes of turning social media ROI into a finite science. While there is debate as to the validity of a general value placed on a brand's Facebook fan, the New York Times may have unearthed something big by seemingly declaring the value of a social share is worth more than a subscription fee to access digital content. This is a radical change for a company whose health is measured by the amount of subscription and advertising dollars coming through the door. But, in a world where consumer decisions are swayed more by peer recommendation than advertising, and opinions held by a network of friends are more influential than a panel of experts, The New York Times has taken the first step toward leading an industry-wide change of opinion.
The progression of the New York Times paywall will be an interesting one. The world is already wagging its collective finger at Rupert Murdoch's facepalm as NYTimes.com site traffic declined by nearly two-thirds after paywall implementation. But, nonetheless, whether the concept of a paywall spreads to other dailies, brings marketers and brands one step closer to determining the value of a social share, or backfires completely, it certainly will be a fascinating story to follow.