In talking about the recent decision by Rupert Murdoch to lock up the entire website of The Times behind a paywall
, we noted that one of its editors, Danny Finkelstein, claimed he was still going to post links
to stories at The Times on his Twitter account, even though people wouldn't be able to read them without paying. We pointed out that, in our experience, even linking to registration required sites annoyed the hell out of people, and Finkelstein might want to think twice about engaging in social media by sending people to a paywall. Finkestein responded with a bit of snark
First, I won't be tweeting stories that followers can't read. I will be tweeting stories that followers have to pay for if they wish to read. That is an entirely different thing.
It's not that different. Most people won't pay, so the vast majority of people who follow your links are going to get frustrated. It's not a good consumer experience at all -- especially when you're talking about using Twitter or other social media platforms where sharing and link passing are encouraged.
Apparently, folks over in the UK aren't quite getting that message. Felix Salmon notes that the Financial Times, who has one of the more annoying paywalls out there is now putting its blogs behind a paywall too
. Salmon rightly questions this idea:
The move makes sense in a kind of tyranny-of-consistency way: the FT.com site believes that paywalls are the way to go, Money Supply is on the FT.com site, therefore Money Supply must be behind the paywall. But beyond that, it's silly.
For one thing, the best reason for newspapers to put a paywall around their website is to support the circulation of the print product, where readers are much more lucrative in terms of both subscription and advertising revenue. Newspapers with free websites fear that their print readers will desert the newspaper for the online product, and they put up paywalls to make that decision less attractive.
Blogs are a great way for a newspaper to add online value for their print subscribers: they can put nichey content like wonky posts on central banking online, without using up precious newsprint. But the FT doesn’t give online access to its print subscribers: that's a key difference between the FT paywall and the one being proposed by the NYT. And print subscribers understandably don’t particularly want to pay twice for the same content. So their relationship with the FT will necessarily weaken when they lose access to the blog content.
But that's the thing about both the Times and the FT's view of things. It's never been about "adding online value" at all. It's been about stamping your feet and declaring "we are valuable, now pay us." Unfortunately for them, that's not how the world works.
Salmon goes on to explain how this will totally take certain FT blogs out of the conversation. It's a key point. What makes blogs work so well is that they usually are not
the same as a traditional journalistic reporting platform. They're not designed to just report the news and move on. The blogging ecosystem tends to be about discussion and conversation, with blogs linking to each other, building off what each other said and continuing the conversation and the debate. But walling it off takes away from all that. That's why we've already seen at least one blogger from The Times bail out
from the paper and move his blog elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised to see FT bloggers do the same. Putting a paywall on blogs is the equivalent of putting a paywall on a conversation... And, speaking of that, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our conversational paywall t-shirt
, which is getting mighty close to selling out: