Thursday, March 24, 2011

Multi-device subscription prices for some of the web's most populars services.

* Source:

When The New York Times announced its new subscriptions for last Thrursday I wasn't that shocked. The Times had mentioned a suscription service would be coming sometime in 2011 last year and most newspapers have been fumbling with similar ideas lately to stop the ad-revenue suck caused by the Internet. On the other hand, when I sat down and looked over the pricing my calm understanding faded, as the tweet below illustrates. (Which nobody from class commented on, leading me to believe that either no one reads my tweets for this class or you all thought it was best to leave the crazy guy alone.)

“Why should we make it affordable? Poor people can’t read.” #nytimes #umdiic

As we all well know, the Internet has effectively destroyed traditional media’s business model. Facing decreased demand for the more traditional formats newspapers, magazines, television news stations, etc. introduced online, digital versions of their product. Save for a couple outliers, most media companies made this new content available to its audience for no charge and slowly began tapping digital advertising to financially support it. And this worked, for a while. But as the market became saturated advertising rates dropped, as did demand for traditional media. This has left companies that invest significantly in the creation of news and content struggling to pay the bills and keep shareholders happy.

This brings us to the introduction of The New York Times digital subscriptions (and the subsequent announcement of the “digital dailies from Wall Street Journal now being sold for $1.99”). The first of many experiments in paid digital content we will be witness to. Indefinitely.

My initial thoughts? I’m not a fan. No, I’m not of the mind that all information should be free. Information – especially the enormous amounts available today – needs mediation as Sarah Ellison noted in the Vanity Fair article and I tend to agree. Furthermore those mediators should be paid for their work. My complaint with the NY Times subscriptions is not their utter existence but their insane cost. The lowest priced subscription, at $15 every 4 weeks or $192 a year, is fairly reasonable. Let’s just hope I never want to read the paper on my computer and on my phone and on my iPad all in the same month. If I did I would find myself shelling out $455 a year for the privilege. Compared to the other media and services I already consume online, many of which are featured on the chart at the beginning of this post, this price is ridiculous.

I can only assume that these rates were seen as the “best case scenario”. Likely agreed upon under the assumption that if there was excessive backlash it would be easier to calm readers with price cuts than it would be to increase prices, and thus revenues, if the new subscriptions were wildly popular.

As for me? I will not be subscribing, preferring instead to scan the print edition at the coffee shop in the morning and read an article online only when it really grabs me all the while crossing my fingers that I don’t hit that magic number of 20.


  1. One thing that no one talked about, that I have read yet, is the cost of printing. You have to remember that they save all sorts of money on printing and CAN pass that on. Now, that still doesn't make up over $200/year...

  2. Jumping off of Josh's comment-

    They are saving a load of money off of printing, plus the whole problem of physical distribution which I'm sure is a hassle and involves a lot of work.

    It seems that like any business, they don't want to face the facts and begin to work with smaller revenues and smaller profits, hence the outrageous pricing for NYTimes when you want to access it on multiple devices. They're just finding new ways to justify keeping the status quo for their financial situation without regard to their actual customers or the changes in how they do business.

  3. Off Tom's
    Yes, the physical distribution I'm sure was somewhat of a hassle, but that hassle was jobs that some people needed or wanted to make a living and are now gone.

    I also prefer to scan the print edition while having my morning coffee and read an article online only when needed.

  4. It's true, the NY Times has likely seen printing and logistics costs dramatically decline with the advent of digital content. I'm willing to bet that most of the savings has been adsorbed by the salaries of the engineers, web developers, video editors, designers, etc. required to keep The Times relevant online. Realize that most large newspapers have morphed from your standard source for news and journalism into complex media producers.

    My main gripe about all of this became more apparent with this week's readings on net neutrality. I take no issue with paying for online content from the NY Times just as I would pay for their print edition. What pisses me off is that I must pay a premium to access the online content in different formats; remember, access to NY Times online from my computer or smartphone is only $192 a year but if I want to access it from both sources and my iPad I must pay $455. That's akin to having a subscription to the print edition at my office and at my home and buying the daily while I wait for my coffee at the coffee shop.

  5. @proctor

    How have you and other professors been reacting to the introduction of digital subscriptions? I can already see the backlash from students hitting the wall when trying access course required material.

  6. That's a good question, and I can't say that it's come up yet. On the one hand, digital subscriptions means that our libraries are more likely to subscribe to publications we might not otherwise subscribe to (usually, it's cheaper), but for publications like the NYT, I'm sure there are going to be questions about educational access to articles. You'll be able to access the NYT through social media links like Twitter - what about educational purposes?

    Not sure of a viable answer yet.