Marketing experts offer opposing views on New York Times paywall

Fees for unlimited online access begin March 28

“I do not think the paid subscription model will work,” for The New York Times digital content, says Seethu Seetharaman, PhD, the W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“When consumers have been conditioned to accessing online content from for free for so long, why would they start paying all of a sudden?”

Seetharaman thinks by putting content behind a paywall, which the The New York Times will implement beginning Monday, March 28, will either “drive their readers to their competition, which makes their content available for free, or make them read at most 20 articles each month from each device or account they have.”

He predicts The New York Times’ readership will fall.

“Only the unique features of the paper, the op-eds, columns and special interest features, will be consumed online,” Seetharaman says. “But these unique features must be deemed sufficiently attractive by loyal readers to be worth paying for.”

Carol Johanek, adjunct professor of marketing at Olin, is more optimistic about the 160-year-old newspaper’s transition from a provider of free digital content to a fee-based service.

She thinks the paywall could be a good business model.

“If the benefits of this brand outweigh the fee for the paper’s loyal readers, this will in fact be a reasonable business model for the publisher to adapt,” Johanek says.

Under the new fee plan, The New York Times will allow free access to 20 articles per month. Once visitors click on their 21st article, they will have an option to purchase one of three digital news packages.

“With ad revenues down for the publisher, it is important for the company to understand their value as a brand to their core, faithful group of readers,” Johanek says. “This group of loyal readers who value the quality of reporting and news coverage delivered by the Times will support the new plan”

As evidence that loyal consumers will rally around valued brands, Johanek points to the example of The Wall Street Journal digital business model. The Journal has always charged micro-payments for select articles and premium pricing for others.

“It is all about the strength of the brand’s attributes in the minds of an organization’s most valued consumers,” Johanek says.