No device neutrality at The NYT

Starting today, full online access to The New York Times will no longer be free (i.e solely ad-supported). That is fine and it’s fair: a serious newspaper has very high costs including paying the salary of professional reporters. They create valuable content and annoying Flash ads that no one clicks on is not paying the bills.

So they came up with a subscription plan, as decoded by Frédéric Filloux:

  • The first 20 articles in a “calendar month” are free. After that, you’ll be nudged towards a $15 subscription for 4 weeks of Web access.
  • Smartphones? An iPhone, Android, or Blackberry app is included with the $15 deal. For one year of 52 (4 * 13) weeks, you’ll pay 13 * $15 = $195. Yearly subscriptions aren’t offered. But do I have to pay twice if I own both an iPhone and a Moto Droid?There’s no Web-only deal. The basic $15 rate bundles Web and smartphone access.
  • If you have an iPad you’ll pay extra: $20 per 4-week billing cycle = $210 for one year.
  • Other tablets? Not yet.
  • You want access from all of your devices? PC, smartphone, iPad, Times Reader 2.0, the NY Times app from the Chrome Web Store…that’ll be $35 for 4 weeks, $355 for a year.
  • If you’re a paper subscriber, the NYT elders smile upon you: You’ll have access to everything from all your devices with no unseemly display of surcharge. But it depends on the deal you make: new subscriber, renewal, special offer, a conversation with a Customer Retention Specialist… It all sounds like dealing with a cell phone carrier or a cable network provider or an airline. Three well-loved businesses.
  • For e-book readers such as the Kindle and the Nook: Sorry, no access at this time. (Amazon will sell you the NY Times newspaper, but it doesn’t give you access to the site.)
  • What happens if you touch a page through a search engine, through your friend’s Facebook wall or Twitter tweet, through a link on someone’s blog? Free…unless it’s not. Some visits fall within the 20 articles/month rule; others, such as through Google links, will have a 5 free articles-a-day limit. One can see what an enterprising geek could make of this. How does the NYT know it’s you coming back for one more hit of their good stuff? They do it through cookies. $195/year is a good incentive for a little bit of “cookie management” and IP address spoofing.

Yes, it makes your head hurt. This is another instance of (lack of) device neutrality, which I talked about in an earlier post. Basically, they have decided that they can charge different amounts for the same content based on what device you read the content on. In this case, similar to Hulu, they can see that an iPad would be much more appealing to read the newspaper on, so they charge more to read it there than they charge to read it on a web browser. All of a sudden, designing a better user experience becomes a liability for Apple’s device.

We’ll see how this goes with readers, assuming this makes it past Apple’s subscription rules about charging less outside the app. I just wished their subscription plan didn’t give me a headache trying to understand it. That’s what my cellphone company is for.

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