Tag Archives | New York Times

The New York Times’ New iPad App: More Stuff, But So Safe

At last, the New York Times’ iPad app is complete. Gone is the scant selection of “Editor’s Choice” articles that Steve Jobs reportedly hated, and in its place is pretty much everything that the Times’ website offers.

Just one big catch: The app is loaded with reminders that, come next year, the free ride is over. You already have to set up an account to read most sections. Soon, you’ll need a paid subscription. As a premium package, I don’t think the New York Times app passes muster.

The content’s all there, and that’s wonderful, but the layout lacks imagination. Essentially, it’s NYTimes.com without scrolling. Stories appear in a familiar thumbnail format, sometimes with images, and long articles are spread across several pages, navigated with finger swipes. Embedded video is a nice touch when available, and I like the photo and video galleries. Still, if you’re hoping for a new kind of tablet reading experience, it’s not here.

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Would You Pay $5 a Month for the New York Times?

New York Times LogoBloomberg is reporting that the New York Times is considering instituting a $5 a month fee for access to its Web site. At least that’s what it’s telling folks who take a survey it’s currently fielding.

Like every other venerable publication on the planet, the Times is figuring out how to fund its content and turn a profit in the Web era, so it’s no surprise that it’s tossing out ideas to readers and seeing how they fare. Most current discussion of making online readers pay revolves around micropayments for specific articles, so it’s intriguing to see the Times toy with the idea of a low flat monthly fee.

The Times’ last experiment with paid content was the short-lived TimesSelect, a $50-a-year service that provided access to opinion columns, the archives of past stories, and a few other features; most of the site remained free.  It went away in 2007, and was probably doomed to fail from the start, in part because it was sort of like a good restaurant giving away 90% of the items on its menu for free and charging for just a few. If you could get chicken marsala for free, would you pay for lamb chops?

If the Times were to institute the $5 fee for everything, its traffic would crater. Presumably it would only gate off the site if this survey and other research left it confident that a huge number of folks would pay $60 a year to get All the News That’s Fit to Print.

Me, I’d do it in a heartbeat–I read multiple Times stories every day, so the cost would work out to pennies an article. And I like the idea of making a monetary contribution to the paper’s site’s long-term well-being. I cheerfully admit that I’m in the media biz myself and my take is therefore not necessarily representative.

How about you?


I Wish That You’d Pay for Web Content. But Would You?

T-PollImagine someone spending fifteen years furiously digging themselves into a deep, dangerous hole…and then bitterly complaining about the fact that he or she is trapped at the bottom of a deep, dangerous hole. That’s the situation with today’s media industry..of which, of course, I count myself as a member. Starting in the mid-1990s, publishers began to give away content for free on the Web, a decision which profoundly impacted the economics of the business. Now the business is crumbling. Everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Associated Press is grousing about the business model which they helped to create. And publishers are trying to figure out how to charge for what they’ve given away for years.

The New York Observer has an interesting report on plans the New York Times is formulating to get online readers to pay in some fashion. One scenario involves Times Web content being free until a visitor’s reached a certain word count of number of page views; another would launch a membership system that sounds a lot like a public TV pledge drive. The first sounds unwieldy; the second might work for an august institution like the Times, but won’t save most of the industry.

I cheerfully admit that I’d like to see media companies figure out a way to make consumers comfortable with the idea of forking over cash for digital content. As a reader, I want to see the publications I love prosper, or at least manage to stay in business. As a journalist, I’d like to work in an industry with a business model that ensures that sites like, oh, Technologizer can thrive.

(Note: I have no plans to demand money from folks who read this site. But I just set up a Kindle version of Technologizer using Amazon’s new self-serve blog publishing system–the listing is live, but you won’t be able to subscribe for a day or two. It’ll cost $1.99 a month and I kinda think that I’ll be lucky if I make enough from my cut to buy myself a burrito every now and then.)

I wish I had some profound insight into how the media biz might make readers willing to pay for content again. I don’t. But these points seem self-evident:

1) Once you’ve begun to give something away for free, it’s mighty hard to convince someone that he or she should pay for it;

2) It’s tough to charge when you have direct competitors that don’t;

3) It is possible to charge for usually-free content if it’s in a form that provides new benefits (which is why people will pay for CSI as a DVD box set or an iTunes download even though it’s free on CBS);

4) It is possible to charge for high-quality stuff you can’t otherwise get (which is how HBO became a big business in the 1970s, even though TV had been free for decades);

5) Charging for something new that was never free isn’t inherently implausible (which is why the notion of paying two bucks a month to read blogs on the Kindle makes more sense than blogs announcing that they’re instituting a $2 subscription fee on the Web).

Add up all of the above, and I still don’t see a scenario developing in the immediate future in which millions of people pay meaningful amounts of money for the digital equivalents of newspapers and magazines. Then again, much of the Web’s history to date wasn’t predicted by anyone, so I’m not siding with the folks who say that it’s inevitable that the Web will be (mostly) free forever either.

Let’s end this with a T-Poll:


Times Reader 2.0: Beautiful, and Beautifully Done. But is It a Dead End?

New York TimesHaving begun my day by sniping at the New York Times, I wanted to end it by complimenting it: The company released version 2.0 of its Times Reader application today. The new version–which dumps Microsoft’s Silverlight platform for Adobe’s AIR–runs on Windows, OS X, and Linux, and in many ways it’s an impressive piece of work.

The basic idea remains the same. Reader is a piece of software optimized for one task: Reading the New York Times. It downloads fresh content silently in the background every five minutes (which, unlike NYTimes.com, remains available even if you’re disconnected). The typography is beautiful, and beautifully Times-like; everything’s divided into newspaper-like section; there’s some use of video, as well as lots of photoraphs; and there’s an interactive crossword. You can search, rummage through sections, read each story one by one, or use a Browse feature that looks a bit like a less visually splendiferous version of Apple’s Cover Flow.

You don’t have to hit the Web to read each story, so content loads briskly, and pages lack the NASCAR-like clutter of ads and gegaws all over the place. (There are some ads, but they don’t overwhelm the experience.) If you want to read an electronic version of the Times when Internet access is unavailable or unreliable, this is the way to go, and I could certainly imagine folks preferring it to the Times Web site even if bandwidth is plentiful.

In short, Times Reader 2.0 does a terrific job of accomplishing what it sets out to do: create an experience that feels like it’s somewhere between a paper newspaper and the Web. The Times is asking $3.45 a week for the paper in this format–it’s free if you subscribe to the dead-tree incarnation–and on a theoretical, abstract plane it’s a perfectly reasonable sum to pay. (Which doesn’t mean that enough people will do so in an an era when the Internet conditions us all to assume that any content that’s digital should be gratis; some stories, including the front page ones, are readable even if you don’t subscribe.)

But as good as Times Reader is, I wonder if it’s ultimately a dead end. It’s the very definition of a walled garden–an application that provides access to one and only one information source. (Article do have hyperlinks to other sources, but when you click on them, Times Reader launches your Web browser.) You don’t even get all of the Times in its online glory–David Pogue’s weekly State of the Art column is present, for instance, but not his Pogue’s Posts blog, with its higher frequency and reader comments. I like the Reader, but if the Times could bring some of its design philosophy to its Web site–and maybe use something like Google Gears to enable offline reading–I’d be even more enthusiastic.

Or here’s an idea I can’t imagine the Times embracing, though it’s surely come up as a pie-in-the-sky notion: What if it licensed the Reader technology to any newspaper that wanted to use it? If Times Reader turned into Times, Post, Tribune, Herald, and Chronicle Reader, it wouldn’t feel quite so much like a proprietary island with little connecting it to the rest of the world.

Side note: The Times also makes itself available as a free iPhone app that feels a bit like a shrunken version of Times Reader. It, too, is a class act–although I’d love it even more if it could download the whole day’s paper for offline reading. (It does cache individual articles once you’ve tappd on them.)

After the jump, some images from Times Reader 2.0. Pretty, no?

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Assuming There’s a New York Times in 2040, I Hope It’s Not This One

I just went to NYTimes.com, as I do multiple times a day. A split-second after I arrived at the homepage, it was covered up with a full-page ad overlay. That was irritating, but I’m willing to tolerate some annoyance in return for excellent free content.

I found this particular full-page ad overlay downright disillusioning, though. Here it is:

New York Times 2040

Yup–it’s a fake New York Times homepage from 2040, with jokey futuristic news stories and a redesign which consists of the Times dumping its logo, tagline, and typography in favor of a look which I’m guessing won’t end up resembling whatever is hip when 2040 does roll around. It’s a component of Intel’s big new ad campaign with the slogan “Sponsors of Tomorrow.” (Weirdly, when I go to the Intel site it links to on my Mac, I get a page that’s empty except for a splotch of tan–but maybe it works better on your Intel-based computer than on mine.)

As a journalist, I stress out when media brands lease out their good names to advertisers to make a buck, and the notion of the Times permitting a fanciful New York Times to be shown in an ad on its own site is inherently unsettling. (It’s unfortunately reminiscent of the Los Angeles Times’ appalling decision to allow a fake article to appear on its front page.) No brand in journalism has had standards higher than those of the Times, so this sort of tomfoolery is particularly out of character.

But here’s what’s really dismal about the ad: The notion seems to be that during the next thirty-one years, the main thing that the Times will accomplish is to dump the media world’s most instantly-recognizable look and feel. With reasonable people questioning the the viability of big media in general and the Times in particular, it’s an odd time to allow an advertiser to define the future of the Times–even in jest–and to say that it’ll consist of a goofy redesign.

Am I the only admirer of the New York Times who both hopes and believes that A) it’ll be around in 31 years, but its primary form will be something that hasn’t been invented as of 2009, and which won’t bear much resemblance to today’s Web sites; and B) the Times’ venerable logo, typefaces, and promise of “All the News That’s Fit to Print” will still be with us?


The New York Times on Boxee

Life Without ComcastI thought I was being weird and bleeding-edge by attempting to dump cable TV for watching sites like Hulu through Boxee’s open-source media center software on an Apple TV. But the New York Times has a nifty story today on Boxee and its fans–and once something’s in the Times, it’s presumably well on its way to going mainstream.The Times says that the Boxee-on-Apple TV software has been downloaded 100,000 times to date, which suggests that I have a lot of company already.

I’ll be writing more about my experiences soon, but my overarching takeaway at the moment is that Internet TV on a TV is, above all, different from cable–better in some respects, and worse than others. Of course, Internet TV is still busy being born–Hulu is less than a year old, and Boxee is still in alpha. Cable TV has a head start of a few decades. But if there’s one thing that undeniable about the Internet, it’s that it can catch up with old ways of doing things really quickly. And then go far beyond them…

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