If People Won't Pay A Monthly Fee For Facebook, Why Would They Pay For Newspapers?

from the simple-questions dept

We've been arguing about the long-term problems with paywalls for quite some time now, but more and more newspapers insist that they're "the answer." Of course, they seem to be asking the wrong question. They may be "the answer" to "doing something" in a desperate attempt to slow down people dropping their paper subscriptions, but they're not a long term solution by any means. Beyond the fact that limiting the ability to share or link people to your content takes away significant value, we've also mentioned that it merely opens up a huge opportunity for others to step into the market and replace you. Newspapers don't seem to think this is a real problem, but they are vastly underestimating the threat.

I haven't seen it explained quite as clearly or in such perfect terms as longterm newspaper man John L. Robinson in explaining why paywalls are like "using band aids on a bullet wound (found via Jeff Nolan). Robinson points out that young people today -- such as students -- admit that they're addicted to Facebook, and spend a ridiculous amount of time on the site. But if Facebook put up a paywall of about $10/month (not out of the ordinary for newspapers), they'd find alternatives:
I asked my class of 20-year-old Elon University students how many were on Facebook. All 33 raised their hands. Many of them suggested they were addicted to the social network. (It was all I could do to keep them off Facebook during class.) I asked how many would pay $1 a month for Facebook membership. All raised their hands.

“Five dollars?” I asked. A few dropped out.

“Ten dollars a month?” I asked. Nearly every hand stayed down.

“No one?” I said. “I thought you guys were addicted?”

A student piped up with an explanation: “Someone will invent something else to take its place that is free.”

I shared this anecdote with a newspaper executive when we were talking about newspaper paywalls. I said that if people wouldn’t pay for Facebook, they wouldn’t pay to get through a newspaper paywall.
Robinson then notes that the exec he told this to was dismissive because his students "aren't our readers anyway". But they are the next generation, and any publication that plans to have a future might want to think about what gets them interested... not what sends them running to find alternatives.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2012 @ 6:22pm

    I like the comment that demonstrated one of my common points that if you wait for the news on the newspaper, it's already old.

    The next point is that newspapers are local. This is where the readership is, is in what is happening around the neighborhood. Beyond that, there are too many sources of news to worry about paywalls.

    One site I go to once in a while is Drudge Retort, which has the habit of pasting news article sources to the New York Times to the paywall. Once you arrive there, all you see is the paywall. My answer to that is to merely take the topic matter, paste it into the search engine and come up with an alternative source. What the paywall did for them, was deny them my eyes. I'm ok with that but if they are looking for readership, they missed out.

    Because I am not local to NY, I don't care what the weather is, don't care what their ads are about, and don't care what is happening locally. Put up any sort of barrier, I'll move right along to some other source without issue.

    So yeah that paywall worked out really well for them. They don't have the market cornered on news nor on it's availability. There is certainly nothing in the NYT I'll pay for.

    Nor is there anything in the local papers I'll pay for as I can find that out on the net too. The paywall is a solution looking for a problem to fix and low income isn't the problem it is hunting for.

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