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The New Yorker Swears It’s Fixed Its Pesky Paywall Issue

Angry Eustice Tilley.
Photo illustration by Slate.

The New Yorker occupies a special place in American journalism and letters. As a result, so too does grousing about the New Yorker. The loudest gripe of late, aside from the perennial ones about Andy Borowitz, involves the magazine’s website and its infernal inability to keep subscribers logged in.

Earlier this week, Meghan O’Rourke became the latest writer to voice this complaint on Twitter, the collective copier room–cum–public square of our profession:

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O’Rourke used to work at the New Yorker. (She also worked at Slate.) A staff writer for the magazine, Philip Gourevitch, replied to her tweet with a cartoon depicting a boulder being pushed up a hill—in other words, he’s experienced the same Sisyphean struggle.

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If Meghan O’Rourke and Philip Gourevitch can’t manage to get their New Yorker digital subscriptions to work, what hope is there for readers in Peoria?

Well, more than none, the magazine says! Because according to a New Yorker representative, the great login debacle is over. Actually, it’s been over. The representative confirmed the existence of the issue—a bug with the publication’s login system—but said it was fixed “earlier this year.”

Building a paywall is a complicated process involving things like cookies, and it gets more complicated when it must be linked back to a magazine’s byzantine print subscriptions setup. The technical explanation, per the New Yorker, is that “a very specific error cropped up after we migrated to a new [content management system] in 2017. The bug was particularly affecting article pages that were getting a lot of traffic at once.” You may recall a number of attention-grabbing articles that ran on the magazine’s website last year.

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So if the problem was addressed earlier this year, why have the tweets continued?

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The magazine representative said that now that the New Yorker has fixed that paywall bug—which was real and legitimately crazy-making—any remaining log-in issues are just normal, run-of-the-mill log-in issues of the type that affect every site with a paywall:

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An ongoing issue that we are seeing—as are other publishers—are users who toggle between different devices (phone, desktop, laptop), browsers (mobile, Twitter, Facebook), and apps, where cookies are not transferable. Each of these environments needs the user to log in. Additionally, articles accessed via AMP, Google’s accelerated mobile page, do not retain log-in information. So, for instance, you could land on an AMP page after you click a New Yorker link via Twitter or Facebook and be asked to log in again. These issues are not specific to The New Yorker.

So: The New Yorker acknowledges that for a while there, its paywall was actually, measurably worse than other sites’ paywalls. But now that it’s been dealt with, it should be roughly on par with and no worse than other sites’ paywalls. However, the myth of the original bug persists: It seems that, over the eight months during which the paywall wasn’t working properly, the bug took on a life and legend of its own—and became all the more frustrating for a loyal subscriber base paying a premium for access to the relatively expensive magazine.* And now every time they can’t log in, people think it’s the snooty New Yorker disrespecting them again, when really it’s no worse than its competitors, or so the New Yorker promises. Still, the representative added, “we have multiple teams of software engineers who are working to improve the overall digital experience, from logging in to reading to the interface with customer service.”

New Yorker subscribers, it may be time to find something new to complain about.
Luckily, with the magazine’s refreshingly ramped up online publishing schedule, there’s more content than ever to hate on. Anyone having issues with the magazine’s new crossword?

Correction, June 1, 2018: This piece originally misstated that a paywall bug affected the New Yorker’s website for a year and change. It was eight months.

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