New York Times service costs more, but it's worth less

by Caitlin M. Foyt

Based on the reviews that are popping up in both the iTunes App Store and the Android Marketplace, it looks like The New York Times' revised subscription plan is not overwhelmingly popular among iPhone, iPad and Android users.

Up until a week ago, readers had free, full access to the news source's digital content. Now, with the newly introduced NYT paywall, however, that same privilege will cost you a subscription, and it's not cheap.

Visitors are able to read 20 articles a month without paying, but once readers click on their 21st article, they will be asked to buy one of three offered digital news packages $15 every four weeks for access to the website and a mobile phone app (or $195 for a full year), $20 for web access and an iPad ($260 a year) or $35 for an all-access plan ($455 a year).

The $455 per year subscription is for users who read news on their phone, iPad and online. It costs more than a subscription to The Wall Street Journal ($207/year), Netflix and Hulu ($96/year each) and Amazon Prime ($79/year.) Check out this infographic, illustrated by Michael DeGusta.

Nathan Francis, an iPhone user, gave the app a single star in the iTunes App Store. “$10/month for all access (iPad,iPhone/website) and I'd happily oblige, but this pricing is unworkable. First, charge by the month, not by the four week increment,” he wrote. “Second, $455/year for iPad and iPhone access is not worth it when many other quality news sources are free.”

The Times iPhone app is currently averaging 3.5 stars and the 40 most recent reviews in the App Store (as of early Thursday afternoon) are, for the most part, equally on opposite ends of the spectrum. Five-star reviewers cited that they were pleased with improvements made to the app's layout in its most recent update.

Those who gave the app a one-star rating were angered by the cost of the subscription, the app's slow load time, the fact that the app is not as customizable, and that articles saved on the older version of NYT have suddenly disappeared.

“...They changed the saved articles tab to a favorites tab and in the process deleted 80 percent of my treasure trove of archived articles,” wrote an iPhone user identified as PC747. “They could have WARNED us it would happen, but they arrogantly chose not to.”

Android and iPad users complained in their respective marketplaces that NYT's most recent updates have made the app more technically unstable, which causes frequent crashes.

“Looks like they rushed out the new version without adequate testing to meet the paywall launch date,” wrote an Android user identified as Grizzly. “App is slow and buggy.”

The app is averaging four stars in the Android Marketplace and the iPad app is receiving 2.5 stars in the iTunes App Store. More than half of the 40 most recent reviews in both the Android Marketplace and the iTunes App Store gave the app a one star rating.NYT's paywall shouldn't necessarily come as a shock to people. They are a company, after all, and simply giving the product away for free for years and years doesn't make for good business.

However, The Times should have looked before it leapt from a price tag of $0 to $455. That's a lot to ask, especially since (to play the recession card) the average person doesn't have as much money to throw around these days.

Not only that, but judging from feedback from consumers in the iTunes App Store and the Android Market, it seems that the newest version of the paper's mobile products just aren't as high of quality as they once were. If you can't immediately roll out an unbeatable user experience, how can you expect people to thrown down several hundred dollars when there are dozens of other news outlets they can frequent instead for free?

NYT is certainly on the right track, but if they want their casual readership back, they should consider dropping their prices.