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Huffington Disses NY Times Paywall

Arianna Huffington, who has been engaged in an on-again, off-again war of words with The New York Times, threw down the gauntlet by criticizing the Gray Lady’s new pay wall.

From WWD [1]

Arianna Huffington tossed another grenade in the direction of The New York Times on Wednesday afternoon, during her luncheon address at a Gilt Groupe conference. “The New York Times pay wall isn’t working,” she claimed. “It is so hedged and has so many exceptions that it should be called a hedge wall, not a pay wall.” She went on to contend that a site such as the Times cannot successfully go from free to building a pay wall. “The truth is, people are used to having that information for free.”

The pay wall has been in effect for just a little over a month now and according to the Times, subscriptions have “exceeded expectations in every way” despite reports showing that web page traffic has declined between 11 and 30 percent since it was erected.

But the pay wall figures are being skewed by two main factors.  The first is the introductory 99-cent offer for the first month, and the second is the subsidy by Ford Motors’ Lincoln for 100,000 digital subscribers by covering their access fees for the rest of 2011.

While it’s far too early to gauge whether or not the pay wall will be a success, Huffington is correct that it does look more like a hedge and not a wall. With the 20 articles-per-month-free policy along with all the exceptions for search engines and social media sites, it will be easy for the average reader to skirt the pay wall with just a little extra effort.

People are used to getting their information for free and as the early results have shown, many of them have fled the Times’ website in search of free news which is readily available on the web.

The only way the Times can possibly hope to make the pay wall work is to produce content that is both unique and indispensable, and at the current time that isn’t the case.