It was too good to be true, the newspaper experience on your computer, for free. When Microsoft set out to revolutionize screen readers with Windows Presentation Foundation, the New York Times jumped on the bandwagon and everyone loved it. But now, they want to charge for it.
The Times Reader was without a doubt, a significant leap from any past-generation screen readers. Screen readers usually reminded me of large blocky texts filling a page from end to end with no formatting and even less pictures, but the Times Reader changed all that. Fonts as smooth as a baby’s bottom, texts wrap and shape-shift like fluid water and as well as the standard Web 2.0 behaviors like search, tag clouds and sharing. It was simply a beautiful experience showcasing beautiful content.
Days ago, the New York Times announced that they will terminate the software beta on March 27, and will move to a subscription-based model for any access beyond that time. Even though most saw this coming, I still think this will not only dramatically reduce the number of people using the Times Reader, and if this trend continues, negatively impact Microsoft’s enthusiasm for on-screen reading.
Here’s a list I prepared earlier of why I think this is a dumb move.
- Multiple copies of an electronic New York Times – Besides the Times Reader, there is also the NYTimes.com website, and a New York Times – Electronic Edition, which is a digital replica of the printed edition. Even though some might enjoy the choice, but ultimately it means you’re missing out on content in one or the other.
- Paying for advertisements – So far, the NYT has not made any claims they will be removing advertisements in the Times Reader. For anyone who’s experienced the software, you’d know that the advertisements can be sometimes obnoxiously large (see right). But then again, the same can be said about the print edition.
- Competing with one-self, and a billion other news websites – Why would anyone not consider using NYTimes.com if they are already online? It’s free and it’s easily accessible from any computer, not just those with WPF/Vista. The reading experience in a browser is comparable, with font and font-sizes easily customized for readability. Best of all, it’s an open platform for even screen reader alternatives to reaggregate content from.
- Subscriptions do not appeal to target audience of early adopters – Any early adopter would tell you the best things in life are free. I don’t see why anyone should pay $15/month when there a billion news sources out there for free, even the three other WPF news readers which are still free (for the moment).
The Times Reader is great, but seriously, it’s not worth $15 a month. It’s not even worth $5 a month. It is a luxury, not a necessity. But not to say the Times Reader will flop, because it won’t – it is the New York Times we’re talking about after all. Even if they printed their content on toilet paper, people will still read them.
Hopefully, somewhere out there, a newspaper knows how to do on-screen readers right, and keep it that way.
Update: As reader Diego pointed out, there are two details I’ve missed out.
- For $15, you also get access to TimesSelect and Premium Crosswords – I’m guilty as charged here, where neither of those things interest me in the slightest. I’m not a fan of the idea of double-tiered reporting such as premium editorials, and there seems like a million free crossword alternatives out there – although they’re probably not as good. I don’t play crosswords, so I don’t know.
- Paper subscribers get access to Times Reader for free – The idea of having a printed copy for breakfast and an electronic copy for on-the-go is quite appealing, but the whole point of moving to an electronic platform is to get away from paper. However, this offer is not retroactive. For about $18/month, you get both the paper and Times Reader, but for $15, you get only the Times Reader.