If there’s anything that signals the end to the internet era of free it’s the long anticipated, much talked about, subscription plan for the New York Times. Announced on Thursday, visitors to the NYTimes.com website will be given access to 20 articles a month for free and to read the 21st article they will be given the option of buying one of three digital news packages:
$15 every four weeks for access to the Web site and a mobile phone app (or $195 for a full year), $20 for Web access and an iPad app ($260 a year) or $35 for an all-access plan ($455 a year). All subscribers who take home delivery of the paper will have free and unlimited access across all Times digital platforms except, for now, e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Subscribers to The International Herald Tribune, which is The Times’s global edition, will also have free digital access.
They have smartly decided to make some of their content available for free to take advantage of social distribution so that anyone can read an article someone passes along to them via email, twitter, facebook and blogs. The freemium model has really become the standard for making money on the web and it works quite well when you have a digital product that costs next to nothing to make a copy of.
Personally I believe this marks the end of an era where everyone scrambled to make something free and marveled at all the people who used it. Increasingly I’ve found myself looking at all the free options and then going for the higher quality paid option. That doesn’t mean that free will no longer exist, just that products you use heavily or want more quality/reliability out of will be paid. And historically, with new technologies, this has always been the case. As consumers begin to rely on something or competing products battle for attention the quality goes up and so does the price. I think we’ll all look back at this moment, forget about all the hand wringing that went into it, and talk about the genius behind hooking everyone for free and charging the addicts who want more.