Just Another Brick in the Paywall

Just over a month ago, the library world blew up when OverDrive announced that ebooks from HarperCollins would have a limit of 26 uses, after which libraries would be required to buy an additional copy. Librarians, understandably, were not pleased.

Last week another limit to online access took effect. On March 28, the New York Times implemented a paywall. After using 20 articles within a month, visitors to nytimes.com will be asked to take out some kind of subscription. Subscribers to the print edition will have unlimited access. Little mention of this is being made in the library world.

Nonetheless, there do seem to be library implications. One presumes that IP addresses and cookies are the means by which NYT will track users and uses, and that subscriptions will be monitored with individual IDs and passwords. As of yet, there is no model for institutional access.

All these mechanisms present problems for access on public computers in libraries (or even on staff computers for that matter). Will particular computers begin prompting users for subscription or login information? How will we keep track of public use? What will be our response to the angry patron demanding access? It is unclear what will be the best response. Perhaps deleting cookies will reset the usage clock. Perhaps switching to a different browser will work, or moving to a different computer. Or do we tell patrons to buy their own subscription? All of those seem rather impractical in a library.

Yet librarians, it seems, are not very concerned. We typically have other online access to NYT through database aggregations. I would bet, however, that a large majority of NYT use on library computers happens through nytimes.com. We also have print subscriptions, which would entitle us to one online user per print subscription–we could just run around and log on each library user with our one password whenever the paywall kicked in. (Violation of TOS?)

Perhaps more than 20 NYT uses in a month on a particular computer will be rare, but I doubt it. It may be that NYT will quickly come up with a practical and affordable institutional solution. I doubt that too. Better start thinking about this.