The Great Pay Wall Debate

Can newspapers, as newsosaur at blogspot said, “have its cake (ample page views for advertising) and eat it, too (charging for access to its content)?” I think that the concept of the pay wall is a good, but there are a few loopholes and negative aspects. Of course newspapers are going to want to make money to stay a float, but is the way they are going about it going to be beneficial to both parties; the news organizations and the readers?

Gloria Goodall, staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor, said the New York Times’ plan is to tempt readers to pay for its stories on their webpage. Readers can access 20 articles per month free of charge and then they have to subscribe for further reading. But, if an article is shared via social media it is free. There are also some articles that aren’t premium articles and do not count against your monthly allowance, but it is nearly impossible to determine such articles. There is no doubt that people look to the internet for the news, but will the addition of the pay wall change this?


A University of Missouri study showed that online newspaper readership is increasing and that 50% of newspapers develop only 9% of their revenue from their online editions. Mashable points out that maybe advertising in newspapers just costs too much, and that the reason they can’t make money is because they are “pricing themselves out of the market.” It is not hard to determine the demographics of a website, with all of the analytics tools readily available it is actually quite easy. So why then aren’t the newspapers using that information to entice their advertisers into running ads? It would be smarter to just raise the price of the ad than to raise the price on information. Right?

Dale Carr, CEO of LeadBolt, a firm helping online companies max their ad revenues, said the NYT pay wall is one of the largest experiments in journalism. Goodall explained that the NYT’s pricing model is priced by platform. A basic four-week subscription includes an app for your smartphone is $15, and $20 for an iPad app, both combined is  $35. This is a bit whack in my opinion. I would not pay $8.75 per week for the news to be available on all of my devices. Being a college student and asking me to pay that is pointless. I will find my information elsewhere. As I am sure many are doing.

There are loopholes however. As Thomas Ksiasek, assistant professor of communication at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, pointed out that the model is a “leaky fence,” which will either bring in more subscriptions or users will find other access routes to the articles. Mashable agrees, users will just searching elsewhere on the web where there are other free alternatives.

Apps for smartphones and iPads have helped the NYT build their micro billing and pay-per-use model, and their concept for paying for accessible premium content. Matt Shanahan, an executive at Scout Analytics said, “Apps woke the public up to the fact that there are other revenue streams they can create.” And he was correct.

The most successful pay walls, according to Goodale, are those with flat premium rates and those offering specialized content, like ESPN and the Wall Street Journal. But, NYT is a general interest newspaper, and the content can most often than not be found elsewhere. Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington said, “The Times is important to a free society. It is important to a marketplace of ideas that the New York Times share in that pantheon of great leadership.” So it will be interesting to see how it will work. But, for small-town, local papers, this may pose a threat.

Huntley Collins, an assistant professor of communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia, said, “My key worry is the impact of pay walls at metropolitan papers that don’t have the national and international reach of papers like the Times.” Collins worries that they will lose readership by charging content.

Mashable brings us a good question in relation to adopting the pay wall system, why do newspapers have to put pay walls up in the first place? The news is a commodity, but newspapers continue to charge these premiums, and unless they change something, the pay walls will either put them out of business or decline their readership.

I personally would not consider a pay wall if I were heading a news organization. I understand the concept behind it, but the beauty of the Internet is that there are insurmountable amounts of free information, and I want it to stay that way. Looking at it from a competitive view point, for example, if there were two newspapers both with the same view point, both well written, both reporting on the exact same information, and all of the information is exactly the same in both papers, but one paper puts up a pay wall and the other doesn’t, what paper are you going to read? Which is my point exactly, you will choose the free one.


One thought on “The Great Pay Wall Debate

  1. I do believe all of the ideas you’ve presented for your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very quick for beginners. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

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