Do happy users want to pay?

By the end of the second quarter of 2011 the New York Times had acquired 224.000 paying subscribers to its digital services (plus 57.000 e-reader/e-edition subscribers).

As Felix Salmon has pointed out, the NYT paywall model is different from other high-profile attempts such as the FT’s and the WSJ’s. The NYT does its best to integrate its subscriber model with the open web: Users coming to a page on via links on other websites or search engines, will not see the wall. Regular users have 20 free articles per month. If they read an article more than once, only the first time is counted.

More efforts are made to entice the user to pay. When you are logged in, a module in the right column is telling you how many articles you have read during the past 30 days, and showing you ten recommendations based on your behaviour on the site. Of course, the more articles I read, the better the recommendations get. If the NYT can continue to pile up such incentives, chances of making me pay will increase.

As a contrast, the FT and the WSJ paywalls try to shut you out. Especially the FT is bombarding you with user-unfriendly messages that are annoying even to paying subscribers, as Salmon shows.

It’s too early to tell if the NYT paywall is a success (others have criticized the pricing model). Are happy users really more likely to become paying subscribers? So far the signs are encouraging: By making the paywall so porous, the NYT can uphold its commitment to the open public sphere. The porous paywall has been ridiculed by many tech-savvy users, but actually the ease of sneaking past the wall is the point, as Salmon concludes:

Paying for something you value, even when you don’t need to, is a mark of a civilized society. The NYT treated its readers as mature and civilized adults, and outperformed internal expectations as a result. Meanwhile, the WSJ and FT are still treating their readers with mistrust, as though they’ll be robbed somehow if they ever let their guard down a little. It’s a sad and ultimately self-defeating stance, and I hope in future they learn from the NYT’s embrace of the open web, even in conjunction with a paywall.

It is becoming more and more clear that the NYT functions as a leading innovator for all the world’s established news media, both on the business and editorial side (see beta620 for examples). It is now really a global Leitmedium.

Polyglots and call centres on the beach

Globalization maybe has an image problem, but that doesn’t stop the flow of new businesses and practices created by inventive entrepreneurs. Observations at the micro level are often more telling than generalized analyses. So Die Zeit reports on the business model of ITI Consulting in Manila. From here the company’s Filipino employees teach their customers in Germany, France, Italy, Russia and other places how to speak and write better English (a second language for many Filipinos) — by calling them at work, at home or in a hotel room, sending them homework per email and rating their progress, as any teacher would. ITI’s employees earn around a fourth of what German language teachers get, according to Die Zeit.

One more observation: Dagens Næringsliv last week (not online) wrote about Norwegian regional airline Widerøe, which claims to have dramatically improved the health of its call centre staff ( has written about this earlier). The solution: regularly send them to live and work in a company house in Thailand with flight ticket paid. In Thailand they still do their work with the booking requests, but can take a swim on the beach inbetween shifts instead of enduring the Norwegian winter. One reason for starting this innovative offshoring was to better handle customer requests in the evening and nights, exploiting the time difference.

Widerøe’s example shows how call centre jobs in Norway are protected by our exotic language, but it also reminds one of Timothy Ferriss’ rules for a rich, globalized life: work in a warm and cheap place, and get your salary from a cold and expensive one. But this is even better — here expenses are paid as well!