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The New York Times has added a paywall to NYT Cooking, its online recipe database and companion app. As of Wednesday, June 28, new subscribers to the paper will be asked to pay $5 a month for access to the 18,000 or so recipes on Cooking, not to mention videos, how-tos, and seasonal content. If you're a subscriber to the full paper, there is no additional charge for access.
The decision, which editor Sam Sifton acknowledged many would find “annoying,” isn’t hard to understand—as print journalism loses steam and advertisers bail, the Gray Lady needs other avenues of income to line its coffers. “The work we do is expensive, and we want to do more of it,” Sifton writes.
Some cooking content will still be available even if you don’t pay, like the recipes in the Cooking newsletter, brand new recipes, and some rotating collections—and you’ll get a 28-day grace period before you have to pay up. So far, the Times has not incorporated Chef’d, the meal kit service that designs subscription boxes around Times recipes, into the app.
The question is, will people actually pay up, given how many recipes and kitchen guides are, you know, free? Not to mention, it takes only a little Google-fu to find recipes that are “adapted from” or “inspired by” whatever recipe you’re looking to find. It’s hard to imagine the subscription service taking off when so much competing content is readily available. It could also be that this is a sign of more paywalls to come in the world of digital food content, but I hope to avoid that issue until I move up a tax bracket.
It’s also worth noting that the Cooking app was launched by the Times in 2014, along with NYT Opinion and NYT Now. Both of the latter standalone apps were eventually shuttered despite positive reception due to a lack of subscribers.
Speaking to Nieman Lab, the Times’ Cooking Product Direct, Amanda Rottier, said that in particular, the comment section on recipes are put to good use, making the paper hopeful that its audience would stick with the service post-paywall. “We have created this great community of like-minded home cooks who really add [to] recipes through their notes,” Rottier said. “I would say when people look at recipes, the first thing they go to the notes and check out what people have said about it: Are there substitutions? Are there things I need to keep in mind? That’s been great, and we’ve spent a lot of time making the community strong. We moderate those notes and don’t let [just] anything go up there.”
It’s true, additional notes in the comments and caveats from experienced home cooks really do make a huge difference. To me, that still brings us back to the original question—who will pay for recipe content when it’s the free advice that makes or breaks a dish?