Nothing in life is free — not even The New York Times online. Beginning March 28, users who read more than 20 articles a month will become “digital subscribers.” In other words, they will be charged $15 a month.
Although the Undergraduate Assembly provided free printed copies of the Times around campus between 2007 and 2010, they unanimously decided last summer to end the program.
“There was a decreasing readership, and it wasn’t worth the incredible rate,” UA President Matt Amalfitano said.
If students were to demand the return of printed copies because of the online charge, the UA would reinstate them, he added. However, Amalfitano believes that this is unlikely to happen.
Instead, the UA would be willing to partner with the Times to buy a university-wide subscription, he said, but “the Times is not allowing the University to enter such a partnership.”
Last summer, the Times offered Penn a free online subscription to go with its printed copies, Amalfitano said. “We were about to sign the contract, but a consultant came in and told them it was a bad business decision."
Instead, the Times offered to negotiate $2-3 discount for students who wanted to subscribe to the website, but the UA "was not interested in paying that much,” Amalfitano said.
Most students agree that they will not be willing to pay this cost.
“I wouldn’t pay,” College freshman Aaron Wilson said, adding that loopholes — such as sharing links to articles through email or Facebook — will allow people to read articles without paying.
Amalfitano agreed that “people will be able to get around it. Content could be reposted elsewhere.”
Students will just switch to “other free news sites,” College freshman Whitney Mash said. “It’s not worth it even though I love The New York Times.”
However, some faculty members at the Wharton School remain convinced that the Times has made a wise business decision.
“Ultimately they have to make money,” Marketing professor Peter Fader said.
Eighty-five percent of readers who read less than 20 articles a month will not be affected, Management professor Stephen Kobrin said. “What they’re after is the core of frequent users,” he explained.
Kobrin added that The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal already charge for online content. The Times, he said, is “being very reasonable.”
Although Fader supports the decision to charge for online content, he says the implementation of the subscription has been “clumsy” and “stupid.”
The Times “doesn’t know what they’re doing, it’s taking them forever to get this thing going,” he said, adding the fact that this initiative was first announced last year.
Still, faculty members believe that the knowledge the Times provides is priceless.
“Students are more willing to pay than they say,” Fader added.
The Times is “very original, very well-written, genuinely good quality content,” and is worth $15 a month, Fader said.
Kobrin agreed. “It has a special value over other news sources.”