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: newspaper, olympics, paywall, rupert murdoch, uk
Companies: news corp

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2012 @ 12:31am

    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.

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