The Emperor’s New Clothes and the New York Times Paywall

A few years ago I blogged about three books I called The Emperor’s New Clothes trilogy. Each book described a situation in which, from a certain point of view, powerful people — our supposed leaders — “walked around naked”, that is, did things absurd to the naked eye, like the Emperor in the story. As in the story, many people, including experts, said nothing.

After reading about the fate of the Washington Post, I thought of the New York Times paywall, which can be avoided (i.e., defeated) by using what Chrome calls “incognito mode”. (Firefox has a similar mode.) I didn’t know this until recently; some of my friends didn’t know it. One of them carefully rationed the Times articles she read. I wonder how the long the ignorance will last. The Times is an extremely important institution. In the many long discussions at the Times about the paywall, no one mentioned this?

9 Responses to “The Emperor’s New Clothes and the New York Times Paywall”

  1. Shawn Says:

    The paywall can also be defeated by doing a search for the article’s title.

  2. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    According to this blog post, the New York Times spent something like $40 million developing their paywall:

    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2011/03/28/how-did-the-new-york-times-manage-to-spend-40-million-on-its-pay-wall/

  3. Mark Says:

    You can also avoid the NYT paywall by going in through a simple google search… that is, search for the title of the article and click the link.

  4. Three Pipe Problem Says:

    I find that sometimes to avoid the paywall I have to do a Google search, but rather than clicking on the main NYT article to click someone who has blogged it and follow the link from there.

  5. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    There is some speculation that the New York Times purposely made it easy to circumvent the paywall. That way, people who care about convenience and who have the money will pay the subscription fee. People who are poor and/or tech-savvy can still read the content (and the Times still gets ad revenue from those viewers).

    Now, having said that, it’s still a mystery why it should cost a staggering $40 million to put up the paywall.

    In a related matter, see this interesting story about the truly outrageous amounts of money that New York City government is spending to create a customized human resources system:

    For Bloomberg, Waste Mars Another Digital Project

    Soon after becoming mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg announced a plan to modernize the computer system that handles personnel information for New York City’s vast work force. The $66 million project was to be one of the signature technological innovations of his tenure.

    Nine years later, his administration has already spent $363 million — and the work is far from done.

    The administration has pressed ahead despite repeated warnings that the project is deeply troubled, according to a review of thousands of pages of city records, as well as dozens of interviews with officials and private contractors.

    The administration’s own internal monitors regularly filed reports detailing chronic mismanagement, cost overruns and rampant waste.

    “It was a runaway project,” said Raj Agarwal, a city official who managed the early stages of the new system before resigning in frustration over what he saw as the administration’s incompetence.

  6. Jim Says:

    I always thought they made the firewall leaky on purpose…. It is a fine balancing act, clamp down too much and readers go elsewhere (and google can’t index articles), give too much away and no one pays. They probably have some idea how many people are reading for free, and if it gets out of hand, will tighten a bit.

    (There are other well know workarounds, I won’t mention them here).

  7. Alex Says:

    The Washington Post’s paywall can be circumvented by going incognito as well. I am sure both institutions are well aware of this, but have wisely opted to allow it. As Alex C. points out, they are still getting ad revenue from page views of people who go to the trouble of going incognito, google searching, or following links from social media (those don’t count, either). They maximize revenue when they make it inconvenient, not impossible, to read without subscribing.

    I saw the downside of the tight paywall with the Wall Street Journal. I had a free account from my time at Dow Jones, which published WSJ. There were writers I enjoyed following. But if I read something interesting that I wanted to share with friends and family, I had to include the text in my email, because they couldn’t get to it. It also wouldn’t be worth blogging about, because most people couldn’t get to it. I didn’t see how much that affected my reading priorities until one day I realized that I hadn’t checked the Wall Street Journal in months.

  8. Tom Says:

    I hadn’t known about the incognito mode hack; I’ve just been hitting the ‘stop loading’ button on the browser before the blocking javascript can load.

  9. Bando Says:

    Another way to get around is to use different browsers–you get 10 free articles per browser.