The Guardian, which has a free website, but also offers paid subscriptions to its digital edition, published an article today by Michael Wolff examining the limited success of paywalls:
To the surprise of many digital evangelizers and old-media doubters, newspaper paywalls turn out to work. Sort of.
The New York Times deserves credit for the breakthrough: it created a model that is "porous" enough that if you don't want to pay, you don't have to, and if you read the Times regularly enough and don't care about not paying, you will. This has added a significant new revenue stream, while yet preserving the Times' online advertising income (anemic though that is).
Paywalls still aren't solving the problems that journalism faces on the long-term -- eventually all the old loyal readers are going to die, and if the content is locked up, it's hard to get new subscribers. The solution may still have to be far fewer journalists. (Or, the solution we really should be going for, comprehensive welfare so we can have a core of journalists in our civilization whether or not it's profitable -- journalists being important and all.)
Wolff also highlights a disturbing case in favor of the paywall, in the Daily Mail:
There is, too, the inverse strategy: no paywall. If the Times establishes one model of limited success, the Daily Mail establishes the opposite model of limited success. In essence, the Mail has played an entirely un-newspaper game, much less trying hold onto and finance what has worked offline, and much more trying to focus on what works online. Using large amounts of aggregation, and focusing relentlessly on celebrities, with search engine and social media strategies, it has, in fact, outdone almost all its native online competitors in the quest for traffic and wholly trounced every other newspaper.
I looked at the Daily Mail just to check out this point -- I thought I'd grab a screencap to show you how awful it is. But it's too terrible. It makes me feel sick just looking at it. Here are some of the headlines:
- 'Gouge out his eyeballs!' Screams of heartbroken father as he faces the man who 'killed his daughter, 3,'[1. The quotes, presumably, are getting them out of actually writing 'allegedly'.] in court
- MTV's Buckwild star Shane Gandee, 21, is found dead in truck with TWO[2. Yes, it's really in all caps.] others - 31 hours after he was reported missing
- Confessions of a drug-addled beauty editor: Fired journalist lands $550,000 book deal for tell-all memoir
- Heterosexuals will 'fake' gay marriages to get benefits if same-sex marriage is legalized nationwide, claims Georgia Republican Party chairwoman
I might subscribe to the New York Times over this.