In their official Q&A about their planned paywall key NYT executives say it will operate very differently from how I initially imagined:
Q. What about posting articles to Facebook and other social media? Would friends without a subscription then not be able to view an article that I think is relevant for them? — Julie, Pinole CA
A. Yes, they could continue to view articles. If you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.
Now potentially this sets up a situation in which I start a site called FreeYorkTimes.com that consists of nothing but links to NYT headlines. But perhaps we can assume that there’s some technological ability to blackball a site that the NYT deems to be behaving in an abusive way. In that case, this strategy seems to me to make a fair amount of sense. Someone like me, who writes about the news for a living, will under these circumstances eagerly agree to pay for a subscription. And I’ll also be able to link to NYT articles with good conscience.
The upshot, I think, would be something quite different from a radical change in the business model away from ads and toward subscriptions. Instead it’s something more like an effort to wring a bit more revenue out of the site’s core base of users—die-hard fans, bloggers, people working in the media, etc.