Tech roundup: 'New York Times' goes behind pay wall; goodbye, Zune

The New York publication becomes the latest, and biggest, paper to charge for online reading. And it may make Apple even richer in the process.

The New York publication becomes the latest, and biggest, paper to charge for online reading. And it may make Apple even richer in the process.

The days of free reading are all but over for Internet readers of The New York Times. On March 28, according to a message from Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., U.S. readers who read the paper on computers, tablets, and smartphones will have to pay for a full read. It won’t be cheap: a minimum of $195 a year.

Heres the breakdown:

  1. If you’re reading the Times only on a computer, you’ll have access to only 20 articles per month (yes, per month) before a subscription fee is charged: $15 every 4 weeks or $195 a year.  That charge will also cover reading on a smartphone app such as an Android, Blackberry or iPhone.
  2. If you’re reading your paper on the Times' iPad tablet app, the rate goes up to $20 per for 4 weeks or $260 annually.  
  3. For the full boat — computer, smartphone, and iPad—the rate is $35 every four weeks or $455 a year.

The email notes, however, that the Times' home page and all section pages will remain free to browse.  

According to website Mediamemo, subscribers to the print edition will have free access to the digital edition. “Those subscribers, for now, are the paper’s most treasured resource, and it wants to hang on to them for as long as it can,” Mediamemo notes.

As of this writing, there is still some ambiguity about the cost of viewing the paper on the iPad. It would appear that using the Times' iPad app will cost $5 more than just reading it on a browser or using the Times' iPhone app.  The difference could save readers $65 a year.

What if you're researching a subject via Google or other search engine and a Times article comes up? Mediamemo notes that the Times will allow that access; however, Google referrals will be restricted to five articles a day. Bing, Facebook, and Twitter have no such limitation to date.

On March 28, the Sulzberger email notes that the Times will offer its existing digital members a special subscription offer; one can only surmise it will be a limited rate reduction or even free for a time. Canadian readers of the Times went on the subscription plan Thursday (March 17).

According to Mediamemo, the Times is the first publisher that will let Apple handle its subscription process.  Apple will receive 30 percent of each subscription sold through its iTunes app store. Apple’s plan has been controversial, to say the least, with at least one critical assessment labeling it “draconian.” 

But with The New York Times, a major publisher,  accepting Apple’s terms, the print news business being in dire straits, and all those iPads being sold—in effect, a new market — the idea that Apple may become as major a force in publishing, as it is in music, digital apps, TV shows, and movies, is even more a possibility.  One blogger, quoting IDC research, noted that 17 million tablets were sold in 2010; 44.6 million are anticipated in 2011 and 70.8 million by 2012. Most are and will be iPads.

This is just the beginning of digital “paywalls” for publications. The Wall Street Journal has had its $155 annual digital subscription rate in place for some years, and apparently it has been profitable.  If the Times' plan works, expect a flood of publications to follow.  At this point, however, it’s safe to assume that only the most popular sites are big enough to charge for what consumers now get for free: The New York Times is the 88th most popular website worldwide. Will the general public care enough for Times content to follow the paper on a subscription basis?  Will you?

Certainly, The Washington Post will be among the early followers.  While the paper has made available a free iPad app that provides a newspaper-like view of its content, the app’s opening screen notes that this is a “complimentary subscription for a limited time.”
Get your credit card ready; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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One of the ugly truths associated with using any iPad is Apple’s well-publicized aversion to Adobe Flash animation software.  Finally, however, there is real help: it’s called iSwifter.

The Flash wars seem at first glance only of interest to uber-technos, but if you’ve used your iPad to open a website and tried looking at a picture or a streaming video, only to be warned that “this site requires Flash,” you understand the issue.  No Flash? No images. Try the BBC News website on your iPad if you’re unfamiliar with the problem.

Apple is adamant that Flash technology is buggy and eats battery life; some, however are suspicious that Apple is protecting itself from losing money. According to the respected Cult of Mac blog, “Apple is protecting revenue streams derived from content like movies and games. If users could watch free TV shows on Hulu, they wouldn’t buy them through iTunes.”

The new iSwifter app walks around the problem by having you open a Flash-enabled website within its app.  For example, I copied the BBC site mentioned earlier, opened iSwifter, and selected the “Browse website” option.  At the top of the window is a standard slot for a website.  I pasted in the website, hit the arrow next to it and, voila, the BBC side was running in about four seconds with all the videos playable.

The secret is that iSwifter walks around Apple’s software and allows you to view your site in the Internet cloud.  Here’s a more technical explanation of what it does.  The app has been around since last year, with the greatest appeal being to gamers but seems to have achieved general-interest cult status this month with the release of its newest version.  The software costs $2.99.  Note: As of Thursday (March 17), all profits from the iSwifter app will be donated for Japanese earthquake relief, according to the app’s iTunes store listing.

Another app that enables both iPad and iPhone users to view Flash is the Skyfire browser, available through iTunes.  I use it on the iPad to watch the live Al Jazeera/English broadcasts on the Internet, since the default Safari browser won't.  It also seems to be more stable than the iSwifter app for this particular application.

When it comes to seeing Flash-enabled images on the iPad, nothing is terribly easy.

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To no one’s great surprise, according to a Bloomberg report, Seattle’s Microsoft this week pulled the plug on Zune, its presumptive MP3 competitor to the market-leading iPod player.  Introduced in 2006, the company’s then-entertainment and devices guru, Robbie Bach, noted that the company would invest “hundreds of millions” of dollars to compete with Apple over a five-year period, the Bloomberg report noted.

The Zune was judged to be a good contender when it came onto the market.  A 2007 Gizmodo report, quoted in a Zune user thread, noted that Zune had a large screen, social networking or “community,” the anti-iPod crowd, and Microsoft itself.  “Don't doubt the financial backing of the largest software maker,” the blog said. “They brought the Xbox up from nothing to eat a big chunk of what was previously Sony and Nintendo's territory. ...  Can they do the same for the Zune? Definitely.”

In brief, Microsoft tried to compete with Apple’s well-designed hardware-software-customer zeitgeist, but didn’t create much buzz

In the last five years, according to a TechCrunch report from mid-2010, Microsoft’s stock rose an estimated 4 percent; Apple stock was up 550 percent.

Bloomberg noted that Microsoft will concentrate on putting Zune software in mobile phones, according to its source. Furthermore, the services created for the Zune platform will continue including online music sales, media syncing, and firmware updates. But the Zune hardware will cease production.

The last new-model Zune, the Zune HD, was released in 2009. Existing Zunes will continue to be sold, Bloomberg’s source said.


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