If my posts, comments, tweets and Facebook messages about newspaper paywalls seem contradictory, it is because I’m conflicted.
For 30 years I earned a living from journalism. Mainly working on newspapers, I’ve personal vested interest in the industry’s profitability.
As a journalist I want projects like Rupert Murdoch’s paywall at The Times to work. It means I get paid.
If Murdoch gets online readers to subscribe, journalism has a healthy future and I don’t need to find a new career.
That would be good.
People will pay for good material. I work as a freelance for Communications Day, a daily subscription newsletter.
Its business model works because the newsletter covers a niche in great depth. Telecommunications people are willing to pay someone to sift through the day’s news, summarise and interpret it.
My conflict comes as someone who has grown up with computers and the internet. I’m not convinced Murdoch-style paywalls work for everyday newspapers.
I don’t subscribe to the ‘information wants to be free’ idea. That’s nonsense. Information doesn’t want anything. But there is a resistance to non-free information.
Many people aren’t willing to pay for online information, news or entertainment. If they are the overwhelming majority, then paywalled online newspapers will struggle to make money.
This is a problem because there isn’t enough advertising money to pay journalists to gather and write news.
Publishers can make more money from more obtrusive advertising, but that turns readers off.
So publishers are caught in a vice. At the moment, paywalls and subscriptions seem the best route out of this mess.
The only other answer is for quality online publishers to find a way to charge advertisers a premium when their marketing material appears alongside good editorial. The problem here is to get premium rates without selling the editorial integrity.
This isn’t going to happen. So at the moment I’m hoping the paywall will work while looking for another way to turn online traffic into money.
Any better ideas?
- The Subscription Project – Or A Paywall By Any Other Name (jxpaton.wordpress.com)
- The Behavionomics of Paywalls (nytexaminer.com)
- The pros and cons of newspaper paywalls – a Storify conversation (mathewingram.com)