FT Claims Paywalls Are Morally Necessary... And Then Shows How Immoral The FT Is
from the that's-not-how-it-works dept
But what's even more ridiculous is Ridding's claim that paywalls are morally necessary. Seriously:
There is a moral dimension too, as he makes clear by drawing on the views of Henry Luce, a co-founder of Time magazine.Now, to be clear, the pronoun choices in those sentences are a little ambiguous, so it's not entirely clear if it's Ridding, Luce or Isaacson who specifically said advertising only was "morally abhorrent" and "economically self-defeating." But, either way, it does seem like all three share that general sense. There are a few problems with this, logically. First, it assumes that there are two and only two revenue streams available: advertising and subscription. That is not the case at all.
Luce, quoted in a Time article by Walter Isaacson last February, could not stomach the idea of papers and magazines relying solely on advertising revenue.
He called the formula "morally abhorrent" and "economically self-defeating." A publication's primary duty was to readers rather than advertisers. The advertising-only revenue model is self-defeating, because, eventually, it weakens the bond between publication and reader.
Second, if it's morally abhorrent to rely on advertising, then pretty much every major publication is morally abhorrent -- including the Financial Times, in getting a pretty good chunk of their revenue from advertising. Historically, if you look at publications, subscription revenue hasn't even covered printing and delivery costs -- meaning that subscriptions were effectively meaningless in terms of actually mattering to a paper's bottom line.
But, the biggest point that disproves Ridding is given by Ridding himself (and highlighted by Beschizza). Apparently, in an interview just a few months ago, Ridding talked up how the subscriptions were useful in getting advertisers to pay more:
"If you have an audience that is paying for your journalism they are engaged and that is an important message for advertisers."Remember, this is the guy who was just saying that if a publications primary duty was to advertisers rather than readers, it was morally abhorrent. But, even here he admits that the subscriptions are driven by... advertisers. If this was really about getting the influence of advertisers away from newspapers, why is he playing up the increased ad revenue due to the paywall?