Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The New York Times Paywall Gets a Little Firmer: Bing's All-You-Can-Eat Exemption Goes Away

Farewell, Bing loophole! We never knew ya!

If you were looking for evidence that the New York Times’ subscription/paywall plan, rolled out last week, is very much a work in progress, here you go: A couple days after debuting a plan that limited referring links from Google but not any other site on the Web, the Times has changed its mind.

Now, the Times says, it will place a limit on links from all “major” search engines, which I assume means Microsoft’s Bing, and Bing alone.

Here’s PR rep Kristin Mason’s explanation of the change, first reported by Alexia Tsotsis at TechCrunch: “After reviewing our options, we decided to extend the policy of five free clicks per day to all major search engines by the global launch on March 28. Our pre-launch period in Canada was undertaken to enable us to test the systems and fine-tune the model.”

Which is fine. The Times is entitled to tweak and modify their system all they want. I’m hoping they finally settle on a one-price-fits-all model, which charges digital-only subscribers less than those who want paper-and-ink copies, too. But I’m not holding my breath.

And, to be fair, the Times has always made a point of saying it was mostly interested in encouraging links from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And that the Google restriction it announced last week could be expanded to other search engines.

Still, it does make me wonder why Times digital czar Martin Niseholtz had to go through this exchange with me last week:

Peter Kafka: Just to be clear, when the Times says non-subscribers can read stories above their 20-per-month limit if they come from referring links, you’re not just talking about Twitter and Facebook, but any link from any site, right?

Martin Nisenholtz: That’s correct.

Kafka: It could be the Journal. It could be a blog, it could be the Financial Times, anything on the Web, right?

Nisenholtz: Yes. The only other thing is that Google has a methodology where they can limit the number of inbound links per day, and we intend to take them up on it.

Kafka: So that’s Google doing the actual gating, not you?

Nisenholtz: Right. They had made this feature available prior to us going pay, so it’s not like it was inspired by us per se. We’re just taking advantage of it.

Kafka: Why limit Google’s links, but not any other site’s?

Nisenholtz: I think the majority of people are honest and care about great journalism and the New York Times. When you look at the research that we’ve done, tons of people actually say, “Jeez, we’ve felt sort of guilty getting this for free all these years. We actually want to step up and pay, because we know we’re supporting a valuable institution.” At the same time we want to make sure that we’re not being gamed, to the extent that we can be.

Kafka: But if you really do want to game the wall, you’ll be able to do it. You could could go through Microsoft’s Bing, for instance.

Nisenholtz: We’re obviously going to be vigilant over the next couple of months, in looking at the ways that people are doing that.

Instead, he could have simply said something long the lines of “Dunno. We’ve been at this for 14 months, but we’re still working on it. Stay tuned.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik