It may be intemperate of me, but why do geeks respond in such a…Pavlovian way when given the opportunity to assume another person’s stupidity? The latest exhibit is Gizmodo, claiming that the New York Times has implemented their paywall poorly.

The paywall’s prima-facie purpose is to limit your ability to read articles past 20 a month, in the hope of converting you to a paid subscriber.

In truth, the NYT has very little ability to tell who you are, and therefore to count how many articles you’ve read. If you happen to log in, sure, but then all you have to do is…log out. You can clear cookies, you can open up an incognito window, you can switch browsers or computers. Or, as Gizmodo points out, you can change the URL.

One might conclude that the NYT’s strategy does not depend on enforcing the 20-article limit. It depends, instead, on identifying customers who are likely to pay. This is called segmenting.

(As an exercise for the reader, research why airline tickets with Saturday-night stays are cheaper.)

You and I, who are willing to make a small effort to anonymize ourselves, are not likely to pay. The NYT knows this. So they don’t waste effort on faux-security.

Those who will pay are those who can’t be bothered to worry about such things. They are not interested in changing URL’s or browsers. And the NYT need only convert a small percentage of them to make the exercise worthwhile.

By “circumventing” the paywall, we simply identify ourselves as unlikely customers. Perhaps it is working as intended.