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Newspapers’ readership could be affected by new online fees

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor

In an attempt to adapt to a growing online market, The New York Times newspaper is now requiring users pay for subscriptions for unlimited access to online articles at nytimes.com while simultaneously offering students and faculty members at certain universities a 50 percent discount on subscriptions.

As of last Saturday, Carnegie Mellon students can have unlimited access to The New York Times’ website for $1.88 per week, billed at $7.50 every four weeks. Students who do not purchase digital subscriptions can still access up to 20 articles per month for free.

“According to a semiannual study of national newspaper readership by the Student Monitor, the Times reaches nearly one in five (18%) U.S. college students during a typical week, which is a much larger percentage than any other American newspaper. It also found that NYTimes.com reaches better than one in five (22%) college students in a typical week,” said Carnegie Mellon Vice President of Corporate Communications Eileen Murphy via e-mail.

Coincidentally, 85 percent of the undergraduate voters (comprising 20 percent of Carnegie Mellon undergraduates) voted last week to continue Carnegie Mellon’s Collegiate Readership Program, which gives students access to a variety of print newspapers, including The New York Times. The program is paid for out of the $5-per-semester media fee.

The New York Times is offering discounts to Carnegie Mellon students and faculty because the university purchases a qualifying amount of hard copies for its college readership program.
“_The New York Times_ has a longstanding tradition of offering educational discounts and working with colleges and universities on utilization of The Times in their teaching,” Murphy said. “Offering discounted digital subscription rates to students and others at these colleges and universities is a natural outgrowth of that program.”

However, there are some who predict that only a few students will take advantage of the discount.

“They’ve likely already figured out a way to bypass the protections that The Times has put up,” said adjunct assistant professor of English Tom O’Boyle.

In addition to The New York Times giving certain leniencies to articles accessed through search engines like Google, students can also access for free the most recent issue of The New York Times through Hunt Library’s online articles database.

However, O’Boyle believes that few students will even reach the 20 article limit, “While the Internet is undoubtedly where most students get their news and info, I’d imagine that places like Facebook and news aggregators such as Google news are far bigger sources than The New York Times web site.”

“I probably only read The New York Times online once this month,” said sophomore business administration major Evan Hollins. “We already get [hard copy versions of] The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other papers for free.”

However, The New York Times’ digital subscription model is structured so that the few students who do read the website more often and choose to subscribe will help support free access by other students.

“The few who care may be able to justify the expenditure by telling themselves it will be less than what they spend on lattes for the year,” said special faculty instructor in English Mark Roth. “[But] most students will not be hurt by the new limitations on free articles.”

“What matters is, how can you attract a sizable group of core readers who are loyal to your news brand and get most of them — not all of them — to pay for access? And that’s the core of the new business,” said Ken Doctor, an analyst who studies the economics of the newspaper business, as quoted in_ The New York Times_.

The move to digital subscriptions in general represents how newspaper companies are struggling to remain profitable in a market where consumers are used to receiving things for free online. “Media companies have to find ways to monetize their content. Providing such content to the public costs media companies enormously, but the public — and the aggregators — are not providing fair compensation to the people who source that content, who provide that content,” said O’Boyle.

Although many free websites can rely on advertisement revenue generated by site visits, The New York Times has not seen a proportional increase in site visits relative to the investment the company has made into its content.

Nevertheless, advertisement revenue still makes up a significant percentage of total revenue, and Roth stresses how The New York Times must be wary of how digital subscriptions will decrease site visits.

“I think the big debate on The Times’ decision is whether the revenue benefits of going to a paid site will be more than offset by a total decline in online readers and by a decline in online advertising, which is based on page views,” said Roth. “I am not sure the equation will work out to The Times’ advantage.”