To: Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.
Thanks for taking the time to write me personally Thursday morning (March 18) about the blizzard of changes that are coming for we readers of The New York Times who prefer our information paper-free.
I thought I'd return the courtesy and let you know what I think.
To be honest, it seems like you've received some dubious advice from some consultant or something. I mean, I understand that all of journalism is clamoring for new workable business models and ways to reclaim some relevance in the midst of what has become a disorienting social storm of information accessibility, but I think there's probably some way to do it that is smarter, friendlier and shows a little more respect for your readers — whether longtime or recent arrivals.
As I read through all the complicated details about whether I am to pay 15 bucks for one tier or 35 bucks for a premium tier, depending on this thing or that, it came clear: Your pricing is all messed up. For an institution that prizes clarity — this scheme is, um, baroque. And backward.
For starters, device-dependent pricing is just plain dumb. We understand that what we really value when we subscribe to The New York Times is a certain quality of information and insight, not which widget it arrives on. And in case you hadn't noticed, the lines between electronic devices are fairly well blurred at this point. Does an iPad with a wireless connection work like a phone? Check. Can a phone access a website using a browser? Check. Can I make a phone call from my iPod? Check. Who really cares what gizmo I get the news on — it's the value of the reporting I'm really after. If it weren't, I'd just sit around reading Gawker and giggling to myself all day.
You get the idea. The distinction between devices is all gray-area now and no matter how hard the Gray Lady tries to force things back to black and white, it is not likely to work.
Thrifty folks will aim for the $15 a month option, and the premium adopters will go for the $35 a month option, but, oh, wait, I see that you are also trying to change what a month is... by pricing your subcriptions on a "per four week" basis. Nifty way to create an imaginary an 13th "month" in the year. That brings the price of your premium subscription to $455 a "year." Do you really think we are as bad at math as your education coverage says we are?
Really, Arthur, you're getting sucked into cable TV territory with all of this: the price points, the gimmicks, the metering "access" for the unwashed masses.
Frankly, it's beneath you.
Instead of going all "gated community" on us, why not wander downstairs to the cubes where the "contractors" are temping and ask some younger generation folks (AKA: your future) what a better way might be? Heres a hint: iTunes.
If you were to make an App that just quietly billed my iTunes account 99 cents every individual day (er, 24 whole hours, please) that I accessed more than two or three articles on nyt.com, I'd happily pay that — heck, I'd consider it good value — and we'd both win. I'd pay less than if I signed up for your "monthly" bill and you'd probably have more readers valuing the quality of what you do and not thinking twice about paying to fund the enterprise.
Bet they wouldn't resent you for behaving like a clueless cable company, either.
Anyway, I do appreciate that you chose Canada as your guinea pig. I like Canada, the people are nice, and they are a lot less stressed out than we are, but they behave differently than Americans sometimes when it comes to marketing and consuming. At least you'll make a little bit of cash on the exchange rate these days.
Last time you tried this years ago, I actually signed up and paid for the online subscription, but then you made it free — and I believed the paper's assurances that everyone could read all they wanted.
So, good luck with it this time. Let me know how it works out for you.