Temporary Paywall Removals Only Highlight The Fundamental Paradox Of Paywalls

from the backwards-economics dept

While there’s room for debate on whether Rupert Murdoch’s paywall strategy for the UK Times and Sunday Times has been disastrous or just mediocre, it certainly hasn’t been a massive success or reinvented any online news business models. Now we’re beginning to see some telling cracks in the facade: the Times paywall recently came down during the Queen’s jubilee weekend, and now TNW reports that a similar free-access period is being considered for the 2012 Olympics.

Now, promotional giveaways are hardly a new or crazy idea, and they don’t typically say anything bad about a business model—but I don’t think that’s really what’s happening here. Certainly the Times hopes to convert some of those free readers into paid online subscribers, but there’s also a clear pattern in the items they choose to make these exceptions for: huge social events that are attended and discussed by lots of people. In other words, precisely the sort of thing where blogs and social media offer the most competition to a newspaper. Why would anybody pay for Olympic reporting when the web is going to be absolutely flooded with constant updates on every little thing that happens, supplied for free by the fans and hangers-on? If the Times content is behind a paywall, it will be all but ignored.

And this really goes to show why, in the long run, paywalls are unsustainable. If the biggest, most popular topics are the hardest to control—and the ones that lose value the most when controlled successfully—while at the same, time social media and citizen reporting output is growing and expanding to new areas constantly, then the inevitable conclusion seems clear: paywalls are, at best, a temporary way of extracting a little bit of cash at the expense of long-term relevance. If your goal is to directly sell news as a product, but you discover that you have to eliminate your prices whenever product demand is highest, something is clearly wrong—you’re trying to apply an old model where it doesn’t actually fit, and getting kooky results. The solution is not to keep compromising the broken model, but to embrace the underlying realities (infinite content, no barrier to publishing, the huge value of share-ability) that broke it, and build new models around them.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: news corp

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Temporary Paywall Removals Only Highlight The Fundamental Paradox Of Paywalls”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: PayFail

After just a few articles you get this:

“Become a member to keep on reading.

We hope you’ve enjoyed your limit of free articles over the last 30 days. Want to see and know more? Become a member today and get unlimited access to the Los Angeles Times, Southern California’s best online source for news, culture and happenings.

As a member, you’ll enjoy our award-winning news and information, including unique storytelling, investigative reports, opinion, in-depth local news, signature blogs, compelling photo galleries, original video content, and revealing data projects and analysis coverage. Plus, take advantage of special membership privileges.”

Anonymous Coward says:

no different to what so many other industries need to do in the digital age but no different to what so many other industries are NOT doing in the digital age.

‘trying to apply an old model where it doesn’t actually fit’ is a excellent example of what the movie/music industries are doing but they are then adding into the equation that labeling everyone as a criminal, suing them, bankrupting them and having them imprisoned is going to help their business to survive. some weird ideas around.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your hatred gets in the way of seeing what marketing is all about.

For a limited time, you can enjoy the website for free. It’s called a sampling special. The Olympics / Queen’s jubilee are key moments, and they can aggregate more audience and show them just how high quality their product is.

Then they can turn back on their membership system (why paywall? Why not “ticket booth” or “smart way to monetize your product”?), and perhaps pick up more subscribers as a result of people having seen just how superior the product is.

I know you hate the idea that anyone has to pay for anything. Try not to let that hatred block your clear view of things. If you can’t get something as simple as this right, I can’t imagine all the stuff you miss out when you talk about copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:


“(why paywall? Why not “ticket booth
or “smart way to monetize your product”?),

Simply because it is not a smart way to monetize product, it is however a great way to reduce your readership and therefore your impact and relevance, not to mention negatively affecting what you can make from the advertisers who have traditionally been the way that newspapers have made their money.

But these aren’t the darkest days, those are the days when the advertisers finally realise that internet advertising is not less effective than old media advertising but that in fact, old media advertising has never actually been worth the money they paid for it.

Aileron (user link) says:

Paywall Newspapers miss the mark everytime

Paywall newspapers are simply trying to apply last century pre internet models to the current world and simply shows how off beam these mega media giants can be when you move the goal posts. Really highlights little these people understand the modern environment.

There are so many alternatives for them to make money if try and apply their brains to how people actually use the net and what they are are actually prepared to spend money on. Rather than trying to bludgeon their users with extraordinary cynicism.

A couple of good articles on the alert.sqwark.me blogs to read on the subject.

Online Advertising fails to deliver; but there is a stunning new approach

New Newspapers of the future

Anonymous Coward says:

I keep asking myself why I don’t want to pay for news, while at the same time I don’t want to see professional news sources go because I really don’t trust my friend’s social network posts for reliable information.

And the answer is simple: I don’t want to pay for news because the quality is not good enough. News give me the basic facts, and frankly even there quality is often poor. Journalists make up stuff completely, or read way too much into the information they have, or just surrender to lobbyists and the government… That’s not worth paying for.

On the other hand, journalism, if done right, can be very valuable to society and thus I’d hate to see it disappear.

I don’t know which business model newspapers should adopt, but I know this: if they want to stay in the game, they need to get their act straight and offer more quality.

Give me a news source that focuses on news that really matters, that offers very reliable info, and which holds important parties accountable by asking the right questions and exposing the important facts.
We need journalism we can trust and which serves society. And that’s something I won’t find on social networks or amateur blogs, and I’ll be glad to pay for it if only to make sure it keeps existing.

Anonymous Coward says:


Not as bad as the Onion’s paywall in my opinion.

Not only is the Onion’s paywall xenophobic, it’s also retarded because it restricts access from countries where the Onion isn’t the most popular.
It would make a lot more sense to put a paywall in the USA, where the Onion is most famous and where exposure is less nedded, than in foreign countries where the Onion is less famous, exposure is much more needed, and few people would pay a subscription to begin with.

Oh well… most commercial humor websites go that route. I bet the next one to do this will be cheezburger network. CBN used to be a good website, but now it’s filled with PC content and idiots who wrongly think they know and are a part of Internet culture, who spam the comments with absolute 10th grade idiocy and who think a troll is any regular prankster.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...