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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 11:54am

    Nothing new

    Newspapers (and TV & radio news) have always, from the very beginning, used the salacious and shocking to sell their wares, even before the internet was imagined.

    Why would anyone think a paywall would alter this fundamental aspect of journalism?

     

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      AvitarX (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 2:26pm

      Re: Nothing new

      Arguably this model works for HBO.

      They don't need to appeal to the masses, they need to appeal to the loyal fanbase. They get more money per a show-viewer (in general) than adverts produce, and people pay because they want those shows.

      HBO costs $300/year. that's 150 hours of prime subject watch (Grey's anatomy viewership numbers came out to their viewing demographic, which was ideal to advert to, being worth about $2 an hour).

      that's 75 shows watched by 2 people (or 35 if you count the movie content as having some value, though most HBO subscriber I know don't really).

      People who purchased HBO for the Saprano's alone (many did) paid a hefty amount of money, and it encouraged HBO to appeal to that type of audience.

      The economist is very similar. The problem is that most "news" organizations went to pulp, as subscriptions were never about making money, they were generally break-even on distribution, or close to it. Very few publications had the pay for good content business model, and they are easy to spot, as they were never ad-heavy.

       

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 11:58am

    Even if that was true, the "crass and tacky" still exists and it's still free. People can easily fall back into their old habits and read the free.

     

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    SujaOfJauhnral (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:07pm

    I'm going to make a wall of cash and sit in it, that way, I can be 'erudite & intelligent' while I read free content.

     

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    Colin Davidson (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:13pm

    Well, it does get rid of those without the mental wherewithal to figure out how to create an account... At the very least it will probably get rid of anyone who can't spell the same word/phrase the same twice in a row. That has to increase the pool a little more erudite...

     

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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Aug 29th, 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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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:15pm

    Long ago, I found that in on-line newspapers the images shown on them are always hiding data mining queries. So mostly I read the on line papers without images, just to be obstinate.

    Maybe, just maybe it is the supplying of loaded images on these newspapers that provide income is the real reason why they would want you to look at them. More often than not the images are just cheesecake to the story and not necessary to tell it.

    Instead of Crass and Tacky, I think they are going for the upscale redneck.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    I disagree with the general principle being stated here, and agree with the specific application.

    Paywall sites cater to a crowd seeking thoughtful, in-depth news coverage, more on-the-ground reporting and a distinct lack of cheerleader boobs, cute kitties and celebrity hookups. The NYT has shown that it can be done, and that while you might chase off the cheerleader boobs readers, you pick up readers that normally wouldn't be interested in you.

    However, there's not really room for a lot of players in that game. The Ottawa Citizen is too little, too late. Local news barely matters anymore, and is easily reported on by an ad-supported site with minimal resources. And there's no way they'll ever be able to match the NYT for national and international coverage.

     

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      Lowestofthekeys (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:34pm

      Re:

      New York Times is essentially a brand of news. It can be said that they attract a specific crowd because of their reputation, not because of the paywall.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:50pm

      Re:

      Paywall sites cater to a crowd seeking thoughtful, in-depth news coverage, more on-the-ground reporting and a distinct lack of cheerleader boobs, cute kitties and celebrity hookups.


      This is a mistaken correlation. There are many paywall sites that cater specifically to the cute kitties & cheerleader boobs crowd.

      I think what paywall sites do is to restrict your audience to the subset of readers who are the sites hardcore fans. The NYT wanted to shed casual readers, and did so successfully with the paywall. This left the anti-boobs&kitties readership by default. It is very unlikely that the NYT gained additional anti-boobs-and-kitties readers because of the paywall.

       

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    Lowestofthekeys (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:31pm

    Anytime I see an article on here about paywalls all I can think of is Mike as Peregrin Took and Bob as the Watcher in the Water.

    On the other hand, she quotes Ryan Holidays opinion that small blogs somehow get more page views for how much content they post.

    This is complete and utter horse hockey. Google is attempting to make it so content is what drives page views as well as the trust rank of your site (which is determined by outbound and inbound linking).

     

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    SujaOfJauhnral (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 12:40pm

    I'm noticing a distinct lack of Paywall Bob in here.

     

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    artp (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    What a solution!

    Great! So paywalls prevent crotch-shots of high-school cheerleaders?

    So why does my print newspaper still have them if I have to subscribe to get it?

    Kiddie-porn anyone?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 1:02pm

    Newspapers are freaking out because the internet is kind of making them a bit irrelevant. Honestly news is news and you can probably get it from like 15 different sources for free.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 1:06pm

    I for one am glad that this site does not have a paywall. The photo galleries and coverage on Cheerleaders from all the major sports is what keeps me coming back. The crass and tacky reporting done here is just icing on the cake.
    /s

     

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    Thomas, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 1:09pm

    Slideshows

    One minor point is that slideshows on websites are absolutely designed to get more page view as each picture opens a new page with more ads.

    If you're not relying on ads for income it would remove the incentive to make these annoying slideshows, but not the content in them.

    So you should get less annoying slideshows.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 1:21pm

    The NHL has cheerleaders?!?

    Seriously?

     

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    Lord Binky, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 1:28pm

    I guess if they want to pretend an asshole is magically absolved of some amount of asshole-ness if he pays a valet to park his car instead of park it himself, you have bigger issues than a minor conflict with reality of human nature.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 2:17pm

    "But if they pay, then suddenly they're only interested in the latest socially relevant investigative reporting"

    Simple. Techdirt's very existence proves Melanie Coulson wrong.

     

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    xenomancer (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 4:03pm

    For the lazy among us

    tl;dr: No.

     

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    Ian (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 9:40pm

    Makes sense...

    After all, I always hear how the people who pay for copies of Playboy are doing so for the articles, whereas people who download free internet porn are doing so for crass reasons.

    I'm sure that once you sign up for a porn website it's all well-cited essays about the pressing social issues of the day, hard-hitting political commentary, and so forth. You know, to appeal to the erudite, sophisticated person out there that whips out their credit card (amongst other things) for porn.

     

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    maclypse (profile), Aug 30th, 2012 @ 4:35am

    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.

    Well, shit, Mike! This solves the US' problems!

    All you have to do is throw up a paywall around Techdirt, and the entire site will suddenly become legitimised in the eyes of the public and the government, and recognised as a serious news service - attracting only the best and brightest in the country!

    Companies and politicians alike will see the flaws of patent law and copyright law, and the freedom issues that plague the US will be out in the open.

    This changes everything!

     

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    ahow628 (profile), Aug 30th, 2012 @ 5:28am

    Had no idea...

    I had no idea that paywalls were magical forcefields that protected you from competition. That is AMAZING!

     

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