I had kind of a grumpy day today: an early morning meeting was cancelled over twenty minutes after it was supposed to begin; they were painting in the hallways at my job and the smell was gross; I was really busy at work and didn’t get to take a proper lunch (I don’t do well when I miss meals); I’ve done a bunch of things today but still have a bunch more to do before the end of the evening…and The New York Times started charging for digital access to its website.
How. Dare. They!
Well, I know exactly how they dare. Several studies and several hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the Times completed a cost-benefit analysis that told them their online readership would be willing to pay for access to articles and archives on nytimes.com. Now, the plan is not entirely cut-and-dried. The new fee scale acknowledges that there are plenty of casual readers out there who only read a few stories a month, and so the first twenty articles you view are free; the Times has also figured out that it will be important to keep relevant as a news source in the era of blogs, Tweets and re-posts, and so accessing the site from an outside link also doesn’t count toward your monthly total. There are checks built in so that an occasional reader can still get his or her Times fix without payment or hassle. But me? Well, I’m sunk.
So far this month I have accessed 151 articles via The New York Times’ website. That’s way more than 20. I am going to have to figure out a way to get my news without paying the monthly access fee, the lowest of which starts at $15.00/month, and which I can’t afford right now. If I had a daily, weekend, or even just Sunday subscription, access would be free, but the prices for home delivery in Arizona are so high that it doesn’t really pay to get the paper delivered every morning. Plus, it’s wasteful to print on all that paper when I can get the same stories in environmentally-friendly fashion on the Internet. What to do? I was already plotting establishing several different email accounts to use when accessing articles, and switching browsers when I hit my limits, and doing vast web searches for links so that I could get to the site that way, when I stumbled across this article on lifehacker that helpfully provides your average surfer with several ways to bypass the 20-article limit.
Victory! (Or so I thought.)
Unfortunately (for my conscience), some overriding super-ego made its presence known when I was about twenty seconds into reading this article (nineteen seconds into feeling like I had won the lottery). I started to wonder about just how ethical this course of action would be – after all, I am basically asking somebody to provide a service to me for which I refuse to pay, even as I know that people’s hard work and, at times, personal risk go into creating the content of which I am so fond. Am I making a fair assumption? That because news on the web is largely free, I should be entitled to having every news source I want present its goods to me without charge? What about the fact that every time I do go on the page, even now, I’m bombarded with advertising – advertising that the Times makes a pretty penny selling to major national and international companies? Does that excuse my refusal to pay? Wait – does the fact that I’m on a tight budget make it okay for me to sneak free stuff for now, with the understanding that once I can afford it, I should pay the subscription fee? And more than all of this, an essential question of ethics: am I so sure that I deserve these wares that I’m willing to circumvent the “rules” (such as they are) and go around the business’ back in order to get what I want?
The answer: I don’t know, but for right now, I’m headed online to read the paper, free of charge, as I try to figure out what’s “right” – or if that even matters in this circumstance, given our digital age.
What do you think?