If You Make A Mistake With A Paywall, It Can Linger For A Long Time

from the psychological,-not-navigational dept

Scott Rosenberg has a column up at The Guardian where he discusses Salon’s experience with a paywall back at the beginning of the decade, highlighting how the damage from a paywall can be a lot more troubling than many people take into account. He points out that Salon’s various paywall experiments did bring in some revenue, but they then limited Salon’s growth potential, first by confusing users on how they could get access to Salon content, and then with the psychological belief that Salon couldn’t be read without paying:

More important, by this point the public was, understandably, thoroughly confused about how to get to read Salon content. It took many years for our traffic to begin to grow again. Paywalls are psychological as much as navigational, and it’s a lot easier to put them up than to take them down. Once web users get it in their head that your site is “closed” to them, if you ever change your mind and want them to come back, it’s extremely difficult to get that word out.

Indeed. As an early reader of Salon, I used to read it all the time — and link to it. But as I got more and more confused over whether or not anyone reading Techdirt could read the links, I was less and less inclined to ever write about Salon stories — and eventually that resulted in me dropping Salon as a source I read as well.

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Comments on “If You Make A Mistake With A Paywall, It Can Linger For A Long Time”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ditto on Salon

One of the reasons I’m so much for “News” Corpse to put up a paywall is exactly this situation – for instance, I never go to Salon anymore and didn’t even realize they’d dismantled their paywall.

One can only hope that entertainers like Glen Beck slide down the paywall into oblivion where they belong. Google is making a huge mistake in accommodating News Corp and others. If the site doesn’t want Google to index it and drive traffic to them, fine. Modify robots.txt to tell Google to go away.

Jason Buberel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ditto on Salon

Google isn’t making a huge mistake – they are just helping to speed up the inevitable outcome. News Corp. and others are going to implement paywalls of one form or another no matter what Google does. Despite the general consensus that it is a ‘bad idea’, what Google is doing will all some of that contact to still appear in Google search results despite those paywalls.

Google is, as a good for-profit business should, acting in its own self-interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Correct. I noticed that WSJ re-erected their paywall yesterday. What a sad thing.

Oh well. Seems that Rupert and his political prowess want to control the news. But don’t take my word for it. Just watch how he attempts to control the political narrative like a second generation weasel sent to a Penal Colony would do-

Start watching about 7 minutes in-

NewsCorp must be a bad work environment.

Todd Loren Sinclair (profile) says:

Paywalls and google news

Another Google News user took the words right out of my mouth … I couldn’t have said it better.

“I know that there are some commercial news sites that Google indexes who feel that people should not be able to read their content for free. I would like to be able to configure my preferences so that I don’t have to see their “teaser” blurbs. I prefer to go from Google directly to the information I’m looking for, and I am never looking for a teaser blurb or a registration only site.”

Rex (profile) says:

Re: Paywalls and google news

You have very good control over the results returned by a Google search when you use Firefox with the “CustomizeGoogle” browser add-on.

To specifically exclude results pointing to a specific site that would otherwise be returned by a Google search, click on CustomizeGoogle -> Options (for Firefox on Linux, it is under the Tools menu). Then in the left sidebar of the dialog that comes up, click Filters. In the right side, you can enumerate those sites that Google should never present in search results. The dialog shows you how to use wildcards in crafting your filters.

I have a fairly large list of excluded sites that makes my search results more productive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Salon made the mistake of moving the a subscription model when the public wasn’t ready for it, and wasn’t able to access the material is so many different ways. The only model at the time was “on your seat, in front of your screen”. Now with wireless, handhelds, and other devices, there is increased value is a quality product you can take anywhere.

Salon had little choice, they were going broke, if I remember correctly.

Jon says:

Salon is free now? I used to read it all the time until the paywall went up. Since then, if I see the salon address, I don’t even bother to click it. You get intrigued by a promising headline, and are then blocked from seeing if it’s as good as its promise. I’ve been jaded to their brand for years now. Guess I can go back again? Hopefully the good writers haven’t jumped ship in those intervening years.

Ben (profile) says:

New York Times too

I stay away from the new york times online for much the same reason I stopped reading Salon; I dislike paywalls. If they’ve changed it, great, but it is unlikely I’d follow a link to a nytimes page at this point, no matter how interested I am in the topic, unless someone specifically said “no subscription required” — much like techdirt puts up “subscription required’ on links where they are needed.

Paywalls are stupid — and the idjits who think they will save their publishing business are in the wrong business.

Dave says:

Great point. I even subscribed to Salon for a little while, then dropped it, and have never been back. Unless the info is really valuable and truly unique, the paywall simply won’t work. Even if someone preferred the pay site, if they’re short on cash (remind you of anyone?) they still won’t buy it.

Yes, with so many free news alternatives, people will generally choose the free over the paid one, even if the free one isn’t as good, but is good enough.

Good old Rupe may have killions, but doesn’t have killions of brain cells. It’s good to hear that about him; anything that will reduce his readership is manna to me.

Rosedale (profile) says:


It was much the same with New York Times. I remember getting links from time to time that I could read because of the paywall. Almost worse were the ones I could read, but try to browse to more content only to be denied. I even refused to create a free account to most sites I am only passing by. It got so bad that I refused to follow a link to NYT and didn’t read them for a very, very long time. It wasn’t until just this year when I got my iPhone and downloaded the NYT app. Everything on it was free and I found the content to be very good. I now share plenty of links with friends and read them weekly (though not daily). I don’t know when they dropped their whole walled garden stuff, but the stigma lasted through college and up to 3 years after.

Rosedale (profile) says:

Re: pay walls...

The core of his content is absolutely free. Most users go blissfully through their entire day not only not knowing, but not caring that he has a “paywall.” I know, but couldn’t care less and so far haven’t found a reason to pay. But for those people who do find it valuable more power to them and Mike. I think any fessing is needed. If I like a techdirt article I share the link and *anyone* can view it. Works like a charm.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: pay walls...

Fess up. You have a pay wall here at Tech Dirt. It’s called corporate intelligence. You write secret reports for people that pay. We can’t read them. That sounds like a pay wall to me.

No, a paywall is a situation where you are given an option to pay for existing content. There have been companies that paid us to create special content for them, but it was for them alone, and they own that content. There is no paywall whereby anyone else can pay to access it.

Peter (profile) says:

hey, Salon learned and corrected its mistake

I too was once a Salon subscriber, got turned off by the paywall, and stopped reading. But there’s no paywall anymore. Ads may be a pain in the butt, but, hey, everyone’s still looking for a way to support good writing, and Salon has some great writing. (Some awful stuff too, but who doesn’t?).

In short, Mike, you ought to go back to reading Salon. Just a suggestion from a friend and fan.

Rick says:

That's exactly it

Yep, this is also exactly what happened to me as a casual but regular Salon reader: people stopped linking and referring to Salon, so it just disappeared from my radar.

I used to love reading Salon articles, and I probably would have paid for the privilege. It’s just that after the paywall, Salon just wasn’t “there” anymore.

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