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.