Khoi Vinh on the New York Times pay wall and the lost opportunity

Another great post by Khoi Vinh definitely worth your time. It opens: Finally delivering on a long held promise, The New York Times announced yesterday that it would debut a ‘pay wall’ around its digital products, first immediately for users in Canada and then at the end of the month for the U.S. and other countries. This is the culmination of a process that began in the dark days of the so-called Great Recession; I remember first hearing of it while employed at The Times in late 2008, I believe. There was much debate about it the next year, and an exploratory team, including myself, began putting together plans for it in the summer of 2009. By the time I left my job there in July 2010, the project was still evolving, and lots and lots of work remained to be done.

Whether the pay wall succeeds or not is an open question and I won’t pretend to know the answer. To be completely frank I was never a proponent of this concept and it was among the reasons I decided to leave my job there last year. Now that it’s upon us I hope it does succeed, actually, because The Times generates tremendous value for the public good and it would be terrific if we could find a way to continue to reward its talented journalists and staff for their hard work. Still, I can’t help but look at the effort that went into constructing this new revenue model and think that it has exacted an unfortunate opportunity cost on the company.

And closes: Not only has the company missed an opportunity to build something for new audiences, but they may also be signaling an entirely counter-productive message to their existing audience, and in a very lasting way. I worry.

Read the whole thing here. There are some great comments too.

Found on This Is Violence.

[Update 3/21/11] Anil Dash, co-founder, Activate, and founding director, Expert Labs

While much of the focus is on the pricing and terms of the new paywall, one of the things that’s probably underestimated is how much the success of the effort depends on the user experience. It’s incredibly hard to understand a model that lets you read 20 stories a month, unless you’re coming from Google, where it’s 150 stories a month, but only 5 per day, unless you’ve paid $15 or $20 or $35 a month, except if you already pay for the print paper, but only if you’re in Canada, until it comes to the United States.

The usual industry angle on these things is to debate whether anyone is willing to pay, or what the price point is, or how it will affect competition. But as much as people point to the success of paid media like iTunes, they forget the key lesson of an average consumer being able to understand that a single song costs $0.99. What do I get from The New York Times for $0.99? Or for $99? I don’t really know, and I don’t know how long it will last. And if as a reader I can’t understand that simple transaction, and can’t anticipate how it affects my behavior of searching, reading, and sharing stories, then I might respond to the whole initiative by just throwing up my hands and going somewhere else.