New York Times Paywall Dangles Apple iPad Offer

Apple's iPad takes center stage in the New York Times' paywall plans, with the newspaper charging more for tablet access to its articles. Can newspaper paywalls succeed?

The New York Times plans on slamming down a paywall on its digital content, following other publications, in an attempt to profit from its online material.

Starting March 28, Times readers in the United States will have free access to 20 articles per month. Anything beyond that will involve a series of payments: $15 per month for access to the Website and smartphone application, $20 per month for online access plus a tablet application, and $35 per month for the combined online, smartphone and tablet options.

Those already taking the Times' home delivery will have full and free access to the Times' online content.

"It's an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in the Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform," Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times' publisher, wrote in a March 17 posting on the newspaper's Website. "The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Website and on mobile applications."

The New York Times will apparently "fine-tune the customer experience" ahead of the U.S. and global launch via a test run of the service in Canada.

In late 2010, a survey by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri found that the iPad was throttling print newspaper subscriptions. At the same time, however, its data also found that the iPad was rapidly becoming a new channel for people's daily news, offering hope that subscription models centered on the tablet could provide an additional source of revenue for news organizations.

Around 84.4 percent of the survey's 1,600 participants said they used their iPad to follow breaking news and current events. Some 78.56 percent of those respondents spent 30 minutes a day using their iPad to consume news, while 48.9 percent spent an hour or more.

At the same time, in a worrisome bit of data for traditional newspaper owners, around 58.1 percent of respondents who subscribed to print newspapers said they would likely cancel that subscription within the next six months. Another 10.7 percent said they had already canceled their subscriptions in favor of digital-only news consumption through their iPad.

"These findings are encouraging for newspaper publishers who plan to begin charging for subscriptions on their iPad app editions early next year," Roger Fidler, the Institute's research project leader, wrote in a Dec. 9 statement, "but our survey also found a potential downside: iPad news apps may diminish newspaper print subscriptions in 2011."

Evidently, the Times is following a path that parallels Fidler's statement. However, the jury's still out on whether a publication primarily centered on tablets can succeed: In February, Apple and News Corp launched The Daily, a tablet-based daily priced at 99 cents per week.

According to News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, the Daily would need a circulation of around 800,000 readers to become economically viable. Whether the publication has reached-or can reach-that level remains to be seen.

In any case, though, the editors at the Times likely hope that their newspaper's storied history will give it the cachet and following necessary to overcome any challenges associated with the paywall.