Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Time Magazine Walls Off Its Web Site: Will You Pay Up?

Want to read the cover story of this week’s Time magazine? Whip out your wallet: You can only get all of Steve Brill’s piece on lobbying and financial reform via Time’s print edition or its new iPad app. Web freeloaders see a snippet, preceded by this note: “The following is an abridged version of an article that appears in the July 12, 2010, print and iPad editions of TIME.”

That goes for almost every other story in this week’s issue, as well–even the magazine’s letters to the editor section has been cut short. But everything on that isn’t in the magazine–and there’s whole lot of that stuff–remains free.

Reuters’ Felix Salmon saw fleeting evidence of a Time paywall last month; now NiemanLab has spotted it again. It is possible it’s an experiment, and I’ve asked the magazine for comment. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Time Warner’s (TWX) magazine unit is going to stick with the strategy for a while. (UPDATE: Not an experiment, Time Inc. confirms. No more free Time magazine on the the Web. Expect walls to show up on other titles, too.)

After all, they’ve been talking about this for at least a year–recall Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore’s memo about trying to stuff the digital “genie back in the bottle”. And in theory, the move helps protect the paper’s print edition and its new Apple (AAPL) offshoot: It answers the “why pay $5 when I can read it online for free” question.

But here’s the thing. Nearly every magazine publisher with a substantial Web site swears that their online audience is different than their print readers. And their sites are certainly designed that way: They’re supposed to attract twitchy Web surfers who want to read about something that happened today, not seven days ago.

So if that’s the case, what’s the real downside in keeping the magazine stuff free? Maybe that online/offline split isn’t as real as we’ve been told.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle