Worcester T&G paywall begins today

posted by Mike on August 16th, 2010

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s long-awaited paywall is finally up today.

The cost for an online subscription is $14.95 per month.

After viewing 10 articles in one calendar month, you’ll be required to get a paid site account.

We’re currently (though not for long) print subscribers, so I could register for a free site account, but I’m curious about the technical details of the firewall, and so I haven’t registered yet. (Karl Hakkarainen blogs his registration experience here.)

This morning, I’m finding that deleting my cookies is enough to enable access to previously-denied articles. Seems like refusing cookies works, too. I admire that when their paywall fails, it fails in favor of the reader. That’s real user-friendliness, and it takes guts.

This Jeff Barnard rant from April is still worth reading.

Update: Here’s a bug someone sent in, and which I’ve confirmed. (Let me know if it doesn’t happen to you.)

You know how if you visit a T&G page, and leave it open for a few minutes, it refreshes? This seems to count as an additional article view.

Try this:

  1. Clear your cookies or otherwise start afresh.
  2. Visit a “(T&G)” article, one that counts against your 10 monthly articles.
  3. Leave the window open for awhile.
  4. Visit another “(T&G)” article. You should be asked to register, even though you’ve only read 2, not 10, articles.

This bug is the one example of the paywall failing in a way that penalizes the casual reader.

The notes below aren’t relevant at the moment, just keeping them here for future reference…

So I’m looking at my telegram.com cookies for the first time. There’s one called PBSCPERMUSERID that was created when I first visited the site with this browser, and will expire in a year. It’s a 16-digit #. I assume the “PBSC” part has to do with Publicus, the content management system they use. I deleted the user ID and session cookies, revisited the site, and got new cookies with new ID #s.

(Not surprisingly, I don’t see any T&G Flash cookies.)

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22 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On August 16, 2010 at 12:42 Worcester Gadfly said:

    A savvy web-traveller should clear cookies frequently anyway. It messes with the data being collected by various sites.

    The T&G local articles can be accessed via anonymous proxy sites such as VectroProxy, zend2.com, etc.

  2. On August 16, 2010 at 13:55 Pete said:

    Isn’t this a religious blog? Isn’t the eighth commandment “Thou shall not steal”?

  3. On August 16, 2010 at 14:04 Mike said:

    I know that “intellectual property” isn’t property; I know that accessing their website in ways they don’t like, by deleting files on my own computer, isn’t stealing. I’m open to the idea that it’s unethical in other ways, though. Can you recommend a book or essay that thinks through this question in a Christian way?

  4. On August 16, 2010 at 16:23 Pete said:

    I don’t think it constitutes an essay, but The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good write up about the definition of theft.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14564b.htm

  5. On August 16, 2010 at 16:37 Mike said:

    Pete: That essay is from 1912 and, not surprisingly, doesn’t deal with the issue I’m asking about, namely the ethics surrounding things like ideas, digital copies, etc.

  6. On August 17, 2010 at 10:00 Pete said:

    It doesn’t talk specifically about viewing web pages that other people are supposed to pay for, but it does talk about the principal of theft. The T and G asks that you pay for a subscription to view what they have printed and posted online. You as part of a religious blog are telling people how to get around this subscription. This sounds like theft to me. I don’t think you need to read a book or an article for it to tell you whether or not you are stealing. What does your conscience say? Are you comfortable as part of a religious blog telling people how to circumvent their subscription as well as asking others how they circumvented it?

  7. On August 17, 2010 at 14:35 Nick said:

    Mike, you’re right that “theft” of services isn’t the same thing as theft of property, but I have to take Pete’s side on this one.

    This isn’t civil disobedience. You’re just depriving a struggling local paper of a few bucks, and there’s no justification for that.

  8. On August 18, 2010 at 11:29 Brendan Melican said:

    While I enjoy a healthy debate over the idea that unauthorized use of IP is equal to theft (at least in an abstract way), the notion that somehow revenue is lost or being stolen as a result is just silly. The pay wall will do nothing to convince me to pay directly for the content (which I agree is of incredible value), I’m simply not interested in buying a subscription. So there’s no logical way to claim lost revenue when there was no revenue or even potential of revenue coming from me to begin with (other than from display ads which I don’t block because that would actually be depriving them of measurable revenue streams). This notion that consumers are ultimately responsible for slipping margins in the media sector is getting tiresome. I’m happy to keep consuming, but there are better models for generating revenue online than subscriptions or any other direct cash transaction. My attention is the online equivalent of my wallet, the T&G has my attention so the trick is turning a profit off that attention. This is not a new concept and it’s working rather well for those who adapt by following the lead of the industries built on this model, but building walls around content? Not so much.

    For the record, I’ve paid to use exactly one website in my time online. That was for metafilter.com and the cost was $5 for a lifetime membership. I have a feeling my experience more closely matches that of the average user, which should call into question the logic behind pay walls in general. If existing industries choose to ignore the writing on the wall and not adapt I don’t see how blame can fairly fall on the consumer. No part of media consumption is compulsory.

  9. On August 18, 2010 at 13:11 Pete said:

    It’s your choice whether you pay for the subscription or not. I just find it hypocritical for a religious blog to be encouraging something that is unethical. You can debt all you want of the practicality of the telegram. You can say it’s their fault because they didn’t put up enough security, but where’s the personal responsibility in that? That’s about the equivalent of saying that the police at the G20 asked for their cars to be burned and the riots to happen because they were dressed in their riot gear.

  10. On August 18, 2010 at 13:58 Brendan Melican said:

    Well I’m an atheist, so don’t count my words as the voice of P&C, Pete.

    But regardless of religious beliefs I don’t see the ethical problem in pointing out security flaws, unless you believe security through obscurity is a reasonable approach. And if we’re talking personal responsibility, the actions of others have no bearing on the information Mike provided, all of which was detailed and sent to the T&G in an effort to be helpful.

  11. On August 18, 2010 at 14:12 Pete said:

    Brendan, fair enough. If The purpose of Mike’s post was to see what security flaws there were and then report those to the T and G then that is an honorable thing to do and I owe him an apology. If the purpose of his post was to tell people how they can get around the subscription, then I standing by my opinion.

  12. On August 18, 2010 at 14:30 Brendan Melican said:

    Pete, I believe this is where Rodney King is supposed to step in and proclaim ‘Yes folks, we can all get along!’. Unless Mike is in-fact up to no good in which case I say we get out the torches, I know where he lives.

  13. On August 19, 2010 at 12:25 Nick said:

    Brendan,

    You’re regurgitating an argument that’s usually applied to copyright infringement lawsuits in which the plaintiff is asking for ridiculous sums and using it in a totally different context. This isn’t about losing a specific dollar amount. (And if it were, I’m guessing the argument that you’re such a cheapskate that you don’t pay for anything anyway wouldn’t fly in court.)

    The point is that reading more articles than the site allows for free without paying is unethical. It doesn’t mean the T&G is necessarily losing revenue or that it’s your fault that the paper is failing. They’re asking you to pay for a service and you’re using it without paying, that’s all.

  14. On August 19, 2010 at 14:05 Nick said:

    Also, it’s disingenuous to pretend this is about security research. You’re just repeating arguments that you heard on some other blog that don’t apply and using terms like “security through obscurity” that you don’t quite seem to understand. Neither you nor Mike are computer security researchers, and I seriously doubt that either of you could articulate a security flaw in enough detail that it would be useful to the T&G’s engineers.

    This whole things is the equivalent of kids posting ways to sneak into the movies.

  15. On August 19, 2010 at 20:44 Noah R. Bombard said:

    You can also get around paying for the print paper by going to the library. You can also read it at your workplace (if they subscribe) or borrow your neighbor’s copy. If you want your own personal copy, you’ve got to pay for it. I don’t see this as anything different. Accessing stories beyond the 10-story limit requires you to do something to get around it. If you want your own unfettered access without the hassle, you’ve got to pay for it.

    This is, admittedly, coming from an editor who hates pay walls. Not because I hate paying for things (of course I do), but because it’s trying to bend the Internet world to fit into an old model (which it won’t).

  16. On August 20, 2010 at 09:23 Nick said:

    Noah, The fact that you can legally share the print paper doesn’t make it ethical to read the online version without paying. In this case, its not even a difference– The T&G lets you share your online subscription with three other people. But even if that weren’t true, it wouldn’t make “stealing” the online version okay.

    And, the fact that pay-walls are a stupid business model doesn’t justify anything either. I think GM has a stupid business model, but that doesn’t make it okay for me to steal cars.

  17. On August 20, 2010 at 14:28 John Stewart said:

    online version of the Telegram is also available on worcester public library website with a valid library card

  18. On August 22, 2010 at 10:28 Nick said:

    John Stewart, can you provide a link?

    If this is true, they really make it difficult to find. The online card catalog entry for the Telegram says “LIB USE ONLY” and only provides a link to the regular website.

    I’m trying the “Ask a Librarian” system, but it seems to be down right now.

  19. On August 22, 2010 at 10:47 Mike said:

    Nicole wrote up a step-by-step on her blog; can’t find it now.

    You want to go through http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb

    There’s a setting in there to limit searches to the T&G only.

    Should be able to get full text of articles since 1989, IIRC. You might have to enter a library card # at some point.

    The T&G also allows searching many older articles, with the option to pay for access, but the proquest database is considerably better.

    For stuff like SWIP and the “Worcester slogan” rundown, this has been a key resource.

  20. On August 22, 2010 at 17:55 Nick said:

    I did some digging.

    You can log into the ProQuest site through the Mass Board of Library Commissioners site with a valid library card to access the text of old T&G articles. If I didn’t know I was looking for a ProQuest link, I wouldn’t have found it.

    The site does not give you the “online version of the T&G.” It gives you the text of the articles delayed by two or three days. On the evening of the 22nd, I have access to everything up to and including the 20th. No comments or photos.

  21. On August 23, 2010 at 09:56 Nicole said:

    A little more on Proquest/MBLC:

    Go here first, log in with your library card number, press the Massachusetts Newsstand button, and then you should be able to view the archived articles. If you’re searching, I recommend clicking on “More Search Options” and selecting Look for Terms in…Citation and document text.

    Lately, I’ve found that using the Geolocation Database (Roman Numeral II at the top of this page) works quite well and saves me having to type in my library card number.

  22. On August 23, 2010 at 15:43 john stewart said:

    You are right the resource is an archive, not a live version of the Telegram website.

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