I know that within newspaper circles it's become popular to claim that we've now entered the era of the paywall. Paywall supporters love to point to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal -- along with claims from various paywall companies that more and more newspapers are moving over to such a model. However, we've been hearing plenty of stories suggesting that for most every newspaper that isn't a major national or international brand, the paywalls are looking like dismal failures. Very, very, very few (at times, shockingly few) people are signing up, and by setting up the paywall, they're actually losing a fair number of online visitors. This isn't a surprise. As we've been arguing for years, a paywall is the exact wrong strategy for most newspapers, since the real business they're in is building a community and then selling that community's attention. Yet, a paywall makes it much, much harder to build a community, first by putting up a tollbooth, and then making it nearly impossible for readers to share the news and bring others into that community.
So it should come as little surprise that the SF Chronicle here in San Francisco has apparently killed its paywall after just four months
. The quickness with which it's been pulled certainly suggests that the number of signups was appallingly low and someone finally did the math and realized what a colossal disaster this was going to be. For your typical metro or regional newspaper, all a paywall really does is open up a huge market for online competitors. It looks like the Chronicle found that out the hard way.