Paywalls are Hard

By Deane Barker on March 23, 2011

New York Times advances weird, self-destructive trademark theory to prop up its paywall: This article at Boing Boing helps explains why paywalls are really, really hard to do.

Some background: the new NYT paywall allows for unlimited free article views for people following links from Twitter. The @FreeNYTimes feed created links to all the NYT stories, which meant that you could read the whole paper gratis, simply by following the feed (presumably, you could also create an index of Twitter URLs that corresponded to all the URLs on the Times’s site, a kind of codex of free backdoors to the paper).

With a paywall, you’re trying to keep some people out, but let Google in…and that’s complicated.  It’s like trying to bail out a sinking boat with a big hole in the floor.

I keep wondering if the ultimate solution isn’t to allow Google in by originating IP address only, and lock everyone else out.  Then, Google could index the content, but everyone would be prompted to login.  As for people coming from Google or Twitter…I just don’t think you can realistically have your cake and eat it too.



  1. Here are my thoughts on it…

    NYT isn’t looking to actually looking to set up a bulletproof paywall. If they were, they have the resources to do it and it’s been done with some success in the past. Creating an extremely good paywall is not going to generate a large amount of additional visitors and possible subscribers, because you have a paywall up.

    Now what will generate additional visitors and possible subscribers is a media buzz about how people can (and are) getting around their “pay-ledge”. All of these stories are out there referencing the NYT’s new site, that would never be there otherwise.

    Now they have the best of both worlds really…younger generations and more casual readers of the NYT’s can get to all the content they want and are driving traffic through that would never be there if they HAD to pay for the content. At the same time, older generations and more avid readers that feel they really should pay for the content are throwing down additional money that NYT can profit from. Win Win!

  2. I’ve always wondered why google indexes pages that are behind a paywall? By allowing NYT to do that (as Experts Exchange currently does), they are giving very high value new customer marketing.

    It seems that EE’s mechanism of showing content only to the spider and not to the visitor is little different than people loading whitespace areas of their pages with search terms in background color copy. NYTs would be the same.

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