I hate paywalls with a passion. I’m disclosing that upfront as I’m really unable to be unbiased about this particular topic.
Paywalls can reduce the number of people visiting your website, potentially, even driving them to your competitors. I won’t argue that everyone should scrap paywalls; after all, you’ve always had to pay to pick up the Sunday paper.
However, the main source of revenue before the digital age was never the subscription.
It has been, and always will be, advertising.
BuzzFeed eschewed the paywall model, opting instead for “native advertising,” essentially an article or editorial and advertiser has paid to place on the site. On March 5th, the Washington Post introduced the same concept. This represents a major shift in the philosophy of mainstream news outlets. It is sure to upset some people as it could potentially blur the line between advertising and reporting done by that outlet. To that I say,
Based on the quality of journalism coming out of some major outlets, is there really that big of a difference?
Newspapers have been losing revenue for years, mainly to Internet traffic. The industry panicked and tried to shoehorn the model it had used since Gutenberg invented the printing press. In the 1990s when the Internet was still a fad, the print industry made a crucial mistake. It threw away its online inventory for pennies on the dollar as throw-ins for advertisers.
When more and more people started to put down the paper and pick up their iPad, the print industry began to realize it had started dying 10-15 years earlier, and freaked out.
When the New York Times is averaging nearly 48 million visits in a month (that’s more than 1.5 million hits a day), why would you try to turn people away? Sure, you get 10 free articles (and can get around the paywall by resetting your browser’s cookies.)
Instead, why not welcome the entire Internet in and make some cash from your advertisers?