Time Magazine has not put up a paywall, nor has it started asking visitors to register in order to view content. It is, however, not allowing users to see all of its content.
Time.com is now giving online readers "abridged" versions of its magazine stories, each accompanied by a message stating that the full text is only available through print and iPad editions. Or, as paidContent's Staci Kramer quips: "What the Time Inc. flagship did was slip on the magazine equivalent of a condom, a barrier between online readers and the full content of the magazine."
All week, Time has been removing content from its current issue from the website, but this next step in trying to get readers to pay for content is still an experiment, as was the magazine's first paywall, which was later removed. The current effort aims to show readers the difference between what it gives away, and what it charges them to read.
Journalistically speaking, the stories are "deconstructed for online promotion instead of reading," and also strange in that they are used to send readers to Web exclusives meant to accompany the magazine story, which online readers can't even read fully, and online readers are a majority of readers. Business-wise, the audience being asked to pay for content is now just limited to iPad owners or people who want a print copy, which is also a strange move, Kramer points out.
In the past, Time did try to charge online readers, but was unsuccessful, writes Newsweek's Mark Coatney, a former Time website employee. He calls the new abridged effort "the triumph of hope over experience."
When Coatney worked at Time when the first paywall went up, there was no option for users to buy individual stories, and readers had to be print subscribers to get a story online. However, "right now, this new pay wall doesn't even give you that - you have to go out and get an iPad or a hard copy if you want to read all of Brill's cover story this week."
Publishers have long said online and print audiences are different, but as times change and digital innovations continue to be unveiled with each passing day, are those differences shrinking? Or, if online audiences are still different enough to offer them content in a different way, is limiting access to that content to just two platforms really the way to go, especially when most readers are online?
"I think we'll see what works and doesn't work," Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time, told The New York Times. "We'll adapt and change. We're in the hunt like everyone else to figure this out."
Meanwhile, other Time Inc. websites, such as Sports Illustrated, will also begin trying out walled off approaches.
As the experiment continues, we'll see not only whether readers will pay for content that is only available in print or on a tablet, but also if shorter stories with less information are enough for online readers.