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New York Times paywall: A small change that seems big

Free ride is over: paywall goes up on March 28

The New York Times' paywall, which goes up on March 28, is "a significant transition" and "an important step" for the newspaper, says publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

He's half-right.

While the paywall is certainly a big deal for the New York Times - it's the first time the company is cutting back free access to all of its news content - you might not even notice the difference.

Here's how the New York Times paywall works:

Come March 28, you'll only be able to read 20 articles per month for free. After that, you'll need a digital subscription, which costs $3.75 (£2.34) per week for web and mobile phone access, $5 (£3.12) per week for web and tablet access and $8.75 (£5.46) per week for access on the web, phones, tablets, TimesReader and the Chrome web app. Print subscribers get all this stuff at no extra charge.

But wait. The 20-article limit isn't hard and fast. If you land on a New York Times story through a web search, a blog link or social media, it's free. Some search engines may enforce a daily limit on articles, but other inbound links will still be free and unlimited. I'll remind you that the Times already links to many of its stories on Twitter, and if they don't, someone else will.

Essentially, the New York Times doesn't want to charge you for its content. It wants to charge you for the delivery mechanism, whether it's through the website, the iPhone app, the tablet app or the TimesReader software. That's the best approach, because content is abundant on the internet. An elegant tablet app is worth more than the individual stories within.

The problem for the Times, and the reason a lot of people should shrug off the paywall, is that people don't necessarily need major media gatekeepers to provide the delivery mechanism. A recent study by Pew Internet found that 75 percent of people who find news online get it through email or social networks. (Here's a fitting anecdote: a friend alerted me to the Times paywall announcement by email.)

If you're a regular visitor to the New York Times website, or have been enjoying the Times' mobile apps, the free ride is over. But for the rest of us, it's business as usual.

See also: The Telegraph to charge users to access content

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