Lots Of Newspapers Discovering That Paywalls Don’t Work – Techdirt

For many years, while some journalists (and newspaper execs) have been insisting that a paywall is “the answer” for the declining news business, we’ve been pointing out how fundamentally stupid paywalls are for the news. Without going into all of the arguments again, the short version is this: the business of newspapers has never really been “the news business” (no matter how much they insist otherwise). It’s always been the community and attention business. And in the past they were able to command such attention and build a community around news because they didn’t have much competition. But the competitive landscape for community and attention has changed (massively) thanks to the internet. And putting up a paywall makes it worse. In most cases, it’s limiting the ability of these newspapers to build communities or get attention, and actively pushing people away.

And, yes, sure, people will point to the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times as proof that “paywalls work.” But earth to basically every other publication: you’re not one of those publications. The paywalls there only work because of the unique content they have, and even then they don’t work as well as most people think.

Not surprisingly, more and more newspapers that bet on paywalls are discovering that they don’t really work that well and were a waste of time and effort — and may have driven away even more readers.


Of the paywalls erected in the past few years, many have delivered lackluster results, said Ken Doctor, a media consultant who writes the blog Newsonomics.

“The ones that were launched in 2012 to 2014 had good early results and they all largely stalled,” he said.

“They are no longer gaining much in the way of new digital subscriptions, and their print is in rapid decline.”

The article also quotes Alan Mutter who has been pointing out the fallacies around newspaper paywalls for probably longer than I have:


Paywalls can backfire also “because they put a barrier between the newspaper and the casual reader,” he added.

“They are truncating the size of the digital market, when the most important factor for digital is scale.”

Meanwhile, as newspapers are realizing this, even the “successful” paywall folks at the Wall Street Journal appear to be changing up its paywall to make it easier for non-paying users to read the articles.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t get money from readers — but paywalls are a stupid way to do it. You’re asking them to pay for the same kind of value that they can often get elsewhere. That’s dumb. If you’re charging, you should be charging for unique value and something different that only your publication can provide. General interest news is not that.

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