NYTimes Times Reader goes paid – boooooo

New York Times Times ReaderIt was too good to be true, the newspaper experience on your computer, for free. When Microsoft set out to revolutionize screen readers with Windows Presentation Foundation, the New York Times jumped on the bandwagon and everyone loved it. But now, they want to charge for it.

New York Times Times ReaderThe Times Reader was without a doubt, a significant leap from any past-generation screen readers. Screen readers usually reminded me of large blocky texts filling a page from end to end with no formatting and even less pictures, but the Times Reader changed all that. Fonts as smooth as a baby’s bottom, texts wrap and shape-shift like fluid water and as well as the standard Web 2.0 behaviors like search, tag clouds and sharing. It was simply a beautiful experience showcasing beautiful content.

Days ago, the New York Times announced that they will terminate the software beta on March 27, and will move to a subscription-based model for any access beyond that time. Even though most saw this coming, I still think this will not only dramatically reduce the number of people using the Times Reader, and if this trend continues, negatively impact Microsoft’s enthusiasm for on-screen reading.

Here’s a list I prepared earlier of why I think this is a dumb move.

  • Multiple copies of an electronic New York Times – Besides the Times Reader, there is also the NYTimes.com website, and a New York Times – Electronic Edition, which is a digital replica of the printed edition. Even though some might enjoy the choice, but ultimately it means you’re missing out on content in one or the other.
  • Large advertisement in New York Times Times ReaderPaying for advertisements – So far, the NYT has not made any claims they will be removing advertisements in the Times Reader. For anyone who’s experienced the software, you’d know that the advertisements can be sometimes obnoxiously large (see right). But then again, the same can be said about the print edition.
  • Competing with one-self, and a billion other news websites – Why would anyone not consider using NYTimes.com if they are already online? It’s free and it’s easily accessible from any computer, not just those with WPF/Vista. The reading experience in a browser is comparable, with font and font-sizes easily customized for readability. Best of all, it’s an open platform for even screen reader alternatives to reaggregate content from.
  • Subscriptions do not appeal to target audience of early adopters – Any early adopter would tell you the best things in life are free. I don’t see why anyone should pay $15/month when there a billion news sources out there for free, even the three other WPF news readers which are still free (for the moment).

The Times Reader is great, but seriously, it’s not worth $15 a month. It’s not even worth $5 a month. It is a luxury, not a necessity. But not to say the Times Reader will flop, because it won’t – it is the New York Times we’re talking about after all. Even if they printed their content on toilet paper, people will still read them.

Hopefully, somewhere out there, a newspaper knows how to do on-screen readers right, and keep it that way.

Update: As reader Diego pointed out, there are two details I’ve missed out.

  • For $15, you also get access to TimesSelect and Premium Crosswords – I’m guilty as charged here, where neither of those things interest me in the slightest. I’m not a fan of the idea of double-tiered reporting such as premium editorials, and there seems like a million free crossword alternatives out there – although they’re probably not as good. I don’t play crosswords, so I don’t know.
  • Paper subscribers get access to Times Reader for free – The idea of having a printed copy for breakfast and an electronic copy for on-the-go is quite appealing, but the whole point of moving to an electronic platform is to get away from paper. However, this offer is not retroactive. For about $18/month, you get both the paper and Times Reader, but for $15, you get only the Times Reader.

16 insightful thoughts

  1. For $15 bucks a month I’d expect a paper hand delivered to me with a fresh doughnut every morning… This is a nifty littly application but not worth $165/year when I can get the same news for free from CNN, MSNBC and Digg.

  2. I love the Times Reader but $15 is asking a little too much. I have to say though using this type of reader is much nicer than reading from web pages or from an actual paper. I hate scroll-reading, I hate squinting and I really don’t like flipping to page C11, column 5.

  3. Well , that’s the beauty of your Windows world. You have to pay for everything 🙂

  4. You get what you pay for. Ubuntu is horribly ugly and kludgy. The Mac and Windows are at least usable and you can look at the interface without vomiting.

    NYT faces a real quandary: it has bills to pay too. Reporters do not work for free. Good journalism takes time and money and can’t be done the open source way. I hope they figure out a solution, for all our sakes.

  5. And seriously, Jason, have you even done the math? It comes to 50 cents a day. Do you really think you can get free messenger service and a free freshly prepared doughnut alone for that much? Much less a huge printed newspaper along with them. I think the quality of reporting in the NYT is a tiny bit higher than CNN. I was stucking watching CNN at the doctor’s office today. Pure drivel, zero useful information, lots of emotion and human interest stories.

  6. i think the whole push for WPF readers is completely excellent! it’s kinda like a whole RSS 2.0 (like Max before it got gutted for this latest slew of tech, in case you didn’t notice the familiarity of the presentation) ;).

    they should consider magazines being delivered this way: imagine the GFW Magazine like this or an IGN magazine, the TechNet monthly could turn into something a bit more dynamic like daily links to webcasts and stuff…

    i can understand wanting users to subscribe for it but maybe such a model is best suited to a Playboy WPF Reader or something of the sort. otherwise i’d stick to CNN.com or the NYT website for free news…

  7. Hey Long, I like reading you stuff because you don’t spread FUD. However, this time you failed me. When you tell the news, you must report the details that matter too even if that weakens your point… mmmh, maybe this is why you don’t see the difference between NYT and the other alternatives… Anyhow, the key details here are

    1- The $15 include access to TimesSelect articles. ie, all those articles that you can only read their titles online and have to pay if you want to see the rest of the article.

    2- Times Reader is free for the subscribers to the paper version of the newspaper.

    Having said this, I wonder why can’t the reader work like the web version and let you read the non TimesSelect for free. That would seem fair to me.

  8. Reporters have to get paid too you know! If it’s all free, how will NY Times reporters get their salary? Advertising alone doesn’t amount to much, so what other alternatives are there into getting some cash for the reporters and workers there? Sure, I agree with $15 being a too much, but completely free? No way. I would say probaly somewhere along the lines of $2 and $4.75 would be a more reasonable price than $15.

  9. As Diego said, they’re moving the Times Reader to be exclusively for premium subscribers.

    You don’t pay for the Times Reader – effectively, that’s free. But you need to pay for either a paper copy, or Times Select (basically the same thing).

    As such, Times Reader isn’t competing with itself. People who are online but don’t suscribe to the NYTimes can access NYTimes.com; but those who suscribe get the “premium reading experience” in one way or another.

    It’s not a bad move for the NYTimes, which is having difficulty making large amount of money online.

  10. Chad, a friend of mine was interviewed on Anderson’s show. Bottom line: Anderson Cooper is an airhead. He has zero interest in discussing issues in depth and just focuses on personalities and human interest drama. If that is your think then CNN is the network for you.

  11. It’s absurd to develop separate readers for separate content. Imagine downloading one reader for the LATimes, another for Seattle P-I, etc. Make it work in the browser. See http://www.iht.com for an example of the same interface in a browser.


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