Why The Newspaper Paywall Will Fail

from the it-prevents-real-growth dept

It’s no secret that we think newspaper paywalls are a massive disaster in waiting. The number of folks actually willing to pay is a lot smaller than many in the newspaper industry think, and the papers’ failure to recognize that they need to add more value rather than take it away by locking up their content pretty much guarantees the widespread failure of the plan. But Kevin Kelleher, over at The Big Money has a nice article that sums up exactly why paywalls will fail:

For the sake of argument, let’s say that news sites are routinely charging readers in five years. By then, the economy may be substantially healthier than now, and advertisers will be looking for sites with large, loyal readerships to sell their ads on. But that won’t include newspapers. They’ll be catering to that 10 percent of their online audience willing to subscribe. The rest of the Web will have long stopped linking to–and talking about–their stories. The dollars will flow right past the newspapers’ pay walls. And then they’ll really be sorry.

And that’s assuming 10% are willing to pay, which strikes me as high already. One other quibble with Kelleher’s piece: he suggests that newspapers stood a better chance if they started trying to charge in 1994, ignoring the fact that many newspapers have tried to put up paywalls in the intervening years, and nearly all of them (with a very small number of high profile exceptions) have discovered that they don’t work. Whether it’s 1994, 2009 or 2024, it doesn’t really matter. The future of online news is not behind a paywall.

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Comments on “Why The Newspaper Paywall Will Fail”

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Rob (profile) says:

I would honestly be surprised if more than 2% of the current newspaper readers would switch over to a pay model. I can’t imagine many people navigating to the site they have been using for free for years, being greeted by a nice little greeting telling them they have to pay, and the reaction being anything other than a big middle finger. There is SO MUCH information on the web that another site is only a click away, and if you hold people up for even a few extra seconds they are liable to go elsewhere, never mind asking for a CC number. These companies are dinosaurs and they deserve to be extinct.

Yeebok (profile) says:

Won't work

Oddly my rather long comment on this on news.com.au didn’t get published on there.. 🙂 Anyway they ran with a survey of about 6K people in Europe+US and used those results to assume a staggering number of people would pay as their reasoning for a paywall on an *Australian* news site. Like other posters, if a news (or any) site requires my rego to read it, it can get stuffed. I like to get to know a site before I give my info, and if I can’t get what I want, I will go elsewhere.
Admittedly the web’s full of ‘unreliable’ sources but this aura the papers think they have of being reliable is a farce, a good proportion hastily reword bits of copy pasted releases from other sources, especially online. In that regard they’ve devalued themselves completely. Few news websites are taken seriously on their own, I believe most people browse the same story on several sites to get ‘all the interpretations’ not all of the facts.
We need to read between the spin to see the truth in most online papers these days and readers realise this. The last time I looked at a physical newspaper was last month when I packed to move.. the last time I bought one ? Ages back, and that was only for the free copy of Spore’s creature creator..

Dirk Belligerent (profile) says:

Why Pay For Propaganda?

With the Treason Media’s (as I call them) obscene cheerleading for the Obama Regime manifesting itself in blind stenography of whatever Dear Leader says no matter how false; the fundamental incuriousity about Dear Leader’s college years, associations with crooks (e.g. Tony Rezko, Rod Blagovich) and terrorists (e.g. William Ayers, Bernadine Dornan), illegal fundraising; hypocrisy and bias in coverage (e.g. Barney Frank and Chris Dodd were instrumental in pushing our economy into the abyss while reaping sweetheart deals from cronies they supposedly regulate, but, hey, that Republican is having an affair!); and brokering access between Administration honchos and fat cats, that they expect the people to pay to be lied to while they shill for the powerful elites whom they fellow travel with is to laugh.

These latter day Walter Durantys proclaim themselves to be objective reporters of what happens at the circus when they’re f***ing the elephants (and donkeys.) Ever notice how many “reporters” are married to government power players, like Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan for two? When they are literally in bed with the other side, what hope do the serfs, er, people have of knowing WTF is actually happening? Fascism – REAL fascism, not the stuff the statist wingnuts were accusing Dubya of doing – is being imposed on America and the watchdogs are lapdogs because they endorse this upending of our culture in favor of something more Soviet in style.

It’s ironic that as a commenter on a blog I’m expected to provide links to my citations while the Treason Media presents their product as the Truth to be accepted on faith, no proof required. They say something is so and it is so! How dare anyone question the High Priests of the Temple?!?

ND says:

Newspaper Paywall vs Changing Music Market

It’s funny how the line by the corporations in the Newspaper market and Music markets are inverse of one another.

Newspaper corporations see a site like WSJ.com able to charge for news and think that thats the solution and future, failing to recognize that it only works for a very small number of very large newspapers, and probably won’t work in the long term. But its still held up as an example of charging for news working and said that everyone should follow the example, despite all the clear evidence that it doesn’t work.

Recording companies (and their cheerleaders) have the exact opposite situation where they see smart bands/labels able to find ways to charge for things other than mp3s and they insist after every example that it only works for small bands or big bands or new bands or old bands etc etc, despite all the evidence that these things DO work.

The commonality is, of course, a strong resistance to change.

Willie56 says:


In the late 70s, newspapers and television services were wondering why newspaper readership was dropping off. When news is sensationalized, what is the point in reading it? Same with TV, with the advent of Yahoo and YouTube with hundreds of wanna be(s), I get better news from sources on the spot. Iran, for instance, after their election had riots and the Iranian police went around shooting people. Ask the local news service about Iran and they couldn’t even tell me on the map where it was. Geeze, whats the point in listening or reading what they have to say ?

Anonymous Newshound says:

So ads are forever going to dominate?

I’d like to be able to sell my content without peppering my site with ads. I’ve crunched the numbers and if I could get just 50 cents out of half my readers, per month, I’d make a WAY better living than relying on a thin CPM model.

Sure, crappy information will always be free, but people will come around to paying a little bit for the good stuff and I’m willing to do it if someone finds a way that doesn’t cannibalize ALL of my CPMs.

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