July 9, 2014 Last Updated 1:11 pm

The New Yorker to open up its archives, then plans to lock them back down behind paywall

Out: editors determining which stories will appear free on the magazine’s website, which will reside behind the paywall – In: a period of open access thanks to a sponsor

The New York Times today reported that The New Yorker will be opening up its archives going back to 2007 free of charge to readers. The move is not a change of heart, but a promotion, sponsored by an advertiser, that it is hoped will lure readers in before the magazine introduces its new paywall this fall.

Previously, the magazine attempted to decide which articles could be read free of charge online, and which should remain behind a paywall. David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor, told Ravi Somaiya of the NYT that the system has “long since outlived its conception.”

NewYorker-devicesSomaiya describes online paywalls as “something of a settled wisdom” in the industry and cites The Financial Times, WSJ and the NYT as examples of successful paywalls. The problem with this line of thinking is that it remains untrue – there are plenty of media people who advocate keeping media property websites open to the public (The Guardian being the obvious example).

But is also true that many newspaper and magazine executives that have launched paywalls have used those newspapers as examples of other paywalls launched – “see the NYT and WSJ did, so we will, too.” The idea is to convince readers that this is the new normal.

It is true that the paywall strategy has worked for the major financial newspapers and the NYT, but has the paywall strategy paid off for the copycats? I have, in fact, not heard many paywall success stories from local or metro newspapers, or from magazines other than from industry media websites that deliver financial or other business news.

I remain convinced that readers will pay for information, online or in print, that benefits them financially. Whether they will pay for the content when it is simply entertainment or mildly informative is still an open question, and probably one that can only be answered through experimentation, on a case by case basis.

Note: another interesting tidbit from the NYT piece on The New Yorker’s new website is that it is being built using WordPress, which the magazine believes will deliver a better mobile experience.

This is one area where I completely agree, without reservations. It is time for those big, bulky, vendor-driven content management systems to do away – at least for small to mid-sized publications. I never felt they were necessary to begin with, and website redesigns always involved much pain, time delays, and far too much money going outside the enterprise.

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