Online news publishers hoping to restore profits by installing paywalls have their work cut out.
While publishers who have made the move continue to give off hopeful sounds, it seems paywall strategies aren’t the success they hoped for.
If they were, we’d hear more about it.
And let’s face it, those struggling news publishers currently running free online properties on the smell of an oily rag would all be racing to build their own paywalls if there was clear evidence the strategy makes money.
Let’s look at what’s happening with electronic books and digital music:
Writing at Techdirt, Mike Masnick says book publishers are making a better fist of the transition to digital.
Masnick quotes Rob Reid who writes at The Wall Street Journal there’s little e-book copyright infringement compared to music piracy. He says while book publishers aren’t great at dealing with the issues, they are doing a better job than the music industry.
Instead of fighting the move to digital, they embraced it and made electronic versions their books available for digital readers from the outset. Music companies resisted MP3 players for years.
So when digital books first hit the market, readers had legitimate ways of buying them from day one. Most people’s first experience of ebooks would have been through legal, licensed channels and not from pirates. This kept the dollars coming in.
What does this mean for news publishers? There’s no direct lesson, news publishers don’t own stories in the same way music or book publishers own songs or books. And news publishers can’t go back to year zero and train readers to pay for online news content.
Still, it does mean whatever strategy publishers choose, they always will have to compete with free alternatives.