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 @ 12:39am

    Re: Re: Re: PayFail

    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.

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