If you are a $2 billion company, people will pay for your content - if you are losing money and not making a profit, claims a paper published today in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

The New York Times has giant revenue and a reader base that knows exactly it wants and gets in its content. Over 100 million readers per year online, they say. It doesn't just own NYT, it also owns the Boston Globe, various websites attached to its newspapers and the content farm About.com.  While its advertising (and overall) revenue went down this quarter, its circulation revenue went up - probably because it is losing money, say psychologists.

Since this is psychology, it used online survey statistics and those showed that New York Times readers who were led to believe the newspaper’s paywall was motivated by financial need - as in, bleeding money - were generally supportive and willing to pay, while those who believed it was motivated by profit were generally unsupportive and unwilling to pay.

An online survey conducted shortly before the newspaper introduced its paywall found that most readers did not want to pay for access. The same people were surveyed 10 weeks later and the researchers randomly assigned half to read a justification for the paywall based on financial need and half to read a justification for the paywall based on profit motive.

They found that most readers did not pay for content., they simply never read articles after their free number of articles cap was reached.

Readers devalued the newspaper, visited its website less frequently, or even used loopholes to read New York Times content. However, the researchers also found that readers’ attitudes and behavior could be changed by providing a compelling justification that emphasizes fairness. Those readers who were given the justification for the paywall based on financial need said they were more likely to pay for New York Times content.

It doesn't mean they did, they just claimed they would.  Thus, psychology surveys are not a business model the New York Times should adopt just yet.

Citation: Jonathan E. Cook and Shahzeen Z. Attari, Cyberpsychology, Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0251 (free to read)