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May 07, 2012

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I thought you'd given up commenting on paywalls? :-P

In my spare minutes, I've been googling around trying to figure out whether paywalls (now) work. I kept running into 2010 reports of the Times shedding readers, followed by 2011-12 announcements of papers putting up paywalls. Finally, I hit this: http://www.mondaynote.com/2012/01/08/cracking-the-paywall/ which posits that the FT and the NYT are doing the exact opposite of Schibsted and pushing their readers _towards_ their digital versions. Hmmm. (Actually, there's a dissenter in the comments who thinks they're just milking the market. And the author has previously lambasted NYT's digital strategy.) Do circulation numbers get broken down demographically so we can tell how typical you are? (Incidentally, Tim Harford touches on something similar here: http://timharford.com/2012/05/a-questionable-move-by-starbucks/ Being in the minority sucks.)

But more interesting than any one paywall is the effect on society. My googling suggested "protecting the quality of journalism" was the key justification for raising a paywall. So suppose that's true: what happens iff the best journalism can only be accessed for a fee? What kind of society does that breed? (I was reliant on Radio/TV news growing up. So maybe print journalism is just a luxury?) Hopefully the rush to paywalls will leave a few key players with revenue to fund decent on-line journalism, because I've grown to like it, and I wouldn't want to have to write a script that constantly resets my cookies so I can have infinite free articles.

Thanks for an interesting comment, as always.

Actually, when you posted it I was just finishing a big magazine feature on paywalls ;-) But I was juggling a bit too many things at the time, hence my frightfully late reply (sorry, it's been some very turbulent weeks although work has been very rewarding). Also, it must be said that I changed my understanding of what Faedrelandsvennen is doing since writing this post.

I was not aware of how much work's been done to actually be digital first, always, behind that paywall, the aim being to let those who pay chose which platform to read the news on - though the jury's still out on whether it'll work or not. Myself I'd probably be more likely to pay for an app, html5 or native though html5 is more convenient since I my gadgets run on various operating systems, than for a big bundle including print - but I'm not necessarily representative as I said.

I know some of the most used stats will at least break down stats for mobile and tablets demographically, so the answer is perhaps. I'm not sure if the stats are detailed enough, but it'll enable to say something like those who e.g use tablets and smartphones most tend to be men aged 30-39 in big cities with an above average income (with the caveat that I don't remember the exact stats just now, so don't quote me on that ;-) )

It must be said also that Faedrelandsvennen is just one model being tested within Schibsted - a big, pan-European company. In Sweden, the company's tabloid Aftonbladet has been successful with a very different model: you pay to get access to the "plus-section" which is basically a lifestyle section.

As for FT and NYT: yes, they tend to be quoted as two of the biggest paywall successes - Filloux makes interesting comparisons in the post you link to.

I'm not sure if we'll ever get to the point that the best journalism only can be accessed for a fee, but it depends on how you define the best journalism ;-) I doubt we'll ever see general, breaking news end up protected by a paywall (hard to find a workable business model for it + ethical issues in doing so).

But the most expensive form of journalism (investigative documentary and -features, high-class, well researched and well-written indepth stories - certainly. Though evicende (ie viewer/reader figures) suggest these forms of journalism have always been a niche sport. That's one of the key points for many who argue for the value and importance of public broadcasting, though it was put to me while writing the before mentioned feature that you could argue public broadcasting certainly isn't free since everyone who owns a tv has to pay a licensing fee.

You raise interesting questions, but I think we'll see a mix of paid, free and various hybrid models. Certainly, a big issue for newsssites going behind the paywall, is other, free news sites quoting their stories so that other news sites end up "owning" the story in the end...

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