Dear Big Newspapers: Keep Putting Up Silly Paywalls And Clear The Internet Field For Us 'Newcomers'
from the thanks! dept
Apparently it’s a week of paywalls for a bunch of big newspaper websites. Newspaper giant Gannett announced that all of its newspaper websites with the exception of USA Today, will go paywall by the end of the year. The system will allow between 5 and 15 article views before you’re locked out. And then, the news broke that next week, the LA Times will be launching its own paywall. Again, it will allow 15 “free” article views per month, but then require payment — with the price being a rather astounding $3.99/week.
I’ve spent years detailing why these kinds of paywalls don’t work. The short version is that for most newspapers, they just can’t sign up enough users to make it worthwhile. But, more importantly, paywalls actually make the paper less valuable. That’s because lots of people these days read news as part of a collaborative process, in which they want to share what they’re reading via things like Twitter and Facebook. Setting up a paywall makes that a lot harder and a lot more annoying. That makes those publications a lot less valuable in general to readers who can no longer share. On top of that, the paywall shrinks the visits and page views drastically, cutting off the (growing) online advertising opportunities. So far, the WSJ and the NYT have been able to get away with their paywalls, but I’d argue two things (1) those are the two biggest papers in the US, so even with a small percentage, they can get a large enough number of people to sign up and (2) much more importantly, both of their paywalls are crazy leaky. The NY Times one is so leaky that it’s almost a joke to call it a paywall. It’s really a donation system, since anyone can get around it easily (honestly: I don’t pay, I read a lot of NY Times articles and I’ve never, not once, come up against the paywall — I have no idea why, but it’s simply never popped up for me).
But, having said that a bunch of times, at this point, it seems clear that lots of newspapers want to go this suicidal route anyways, and I’m now taking the position that they should go ahead and do that. Because all it’s going to do is open up new opportunities for new publications to take their place. Go ahead and put up a paywall… and that’ll make it that much easier for other sites — including us at Techdirt — to get the tons and tons of traffic available, since we’ll have less competition. When the folks at Reddit want to link to a story, they’ll look for non-paywalled versions, like stuff we might write, rather than something where their users will obviously complain.
So, at this point, I’m all about encouraging the big newspapers to go ahead and make yourself irrelevant online, and leave the playing field (and the big traffic hoses) open to those of us who actually understand that people want to engage and share as a part of the news process.