Does Setting Up A Paywall Suddenly Make Your Readers Erudite & Intellectual vs. Crass & Tacky?

from the i-don't-buy-it dept

We've seen all sorts of bizarre defenses of paywalls for newspapers, but I think this latest one might be the strangest. Melanie Coulson, a senior editor at the Ottawa Citizen, which recently added a paywall, makes the argument that paywalls are needed to get newspapers to stop competing for pageviews with crass and tacky attention-grabbing stories and photo galleries:
If a newsroom is working to get a lot of page views, it’s simply a case of posting a lot of photo galleries, and celebrity stories. I can only imagine this is why, last winter, we posted galleries illustrating AquaYoga poses and NHL Cheerleaders.

However, once you’re working to please/increase subscribers, your objectives change.
Mathew Ingram does a nice job debunking this (non-)logic by pointing out that just because you have a paywall, it doesn't mean that newspapers won't still focus on "pageview-based tactics."

The entire basis of Coulson's argument is kind of bizarre. It's basically saying that readers who pay for a paywall do so to save themselves from themselves. You see, if the content is free, then they're drooling idiots who love clicking through photo galleries. But if they pay, then suddenly they're only interested in the latest socially relevant investigative reporting. But there's absolutely nothing to suggest that's true. The lowest common denominator stuff may upset one's sense of what's high level "journalism," but if that's what people are interested in, then it's where some publications are going to head.

The reality is that there appears to be room in the market for that sort of page view whoring content and more thoughtful journalism -- but I don't see how that automatically separates itself out along the lines of who's willing to pay and who isn't. One could just as easily make the argument that a site with a paywall will feel more of a need to post silly photo galleries and attention whoring content... just to convince people to subscribe.

Nothing about having a paywall suddenly makes your audience more erudite and cultured. It just makes your audience smaller.

Filed Under: advertising, business models, journalism, paywalls

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  1. icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 29 Aug 2012 @ 12:14pm

    Jumping to Conclusions

    From skimming the title I thought the conjecture was going to be that erecting a paywall makes your commenters more thoughtful and polite. If only it were that easy to send the comment spewing AC's scampering into the brush.

    Those guys are like squirrels in your garden; they're cute at first but after a while you're so fed up that trying to drown them in a bucket seems like the best solution foe everyone.

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