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.