Giving money to The New York Times is not easy enough

It’s not surprising that there’s been a lot of thumb-sucking, pro and con around the announcement by The New York Times of the details of its metered online paywall system.

But if you stick to just the trenchant but usual suspects who weigh in, you might have missed some very solid analysis from the greater geek community.

For instance, John Gruber of Mac site Daring Fireball, who can’t help but compare the pricing strategies of Netflix and Apple with that of The New York Times, and find the Times wanting:

One thing many companies — in any industry — can learn from Apple is the importance of simple pricing. If you make it easy for people to understand how much they’re paying, and what they’re paying for, it is more likely that they’ll buy it. Or perhaps this is driven more by the converse: if people are confused about how much they have to pay, they’re more likely not to. The decision to purchase and the act of paying are part of the experience for any product or service, and should be designed accordingly.

This brings me to The New York Times’s new digital subscriptions. They’re neither easy-to-understand nor sound like a great value. Unlimited access to the NYT costs four times more than Netflix — $35 every four weeks. You can pay $15 or $20 every four weeks instead, but then you’ve got to choose between using a Times app on your smartphone or iPad (respectively). And how many normal people realize that if you, say, opt for the $15 plan, that you’ll be able to access the Times website from your iPad?

Netflix: one price, access from any device.

New York Times: three tiers, arbitrary division between devices based on screen size.

And this is from a self-confessed Times fan who wants them to succeed, but ends:

I don’t know that a simpler, lower-priced digital subscription plan would work for The Times, but I feel strongly that it would be more likely to work than what they’ve announced. I have a bad feeling about this.

I think Gruber’s onto something here. Companies with something to sell need to make it drop-dead easy for their fans to give them money. I’d add that they need to do so at a price-point that makes the buyer feel good about the purchase.