The Wall Street Journal, in business since July 8, 1889, when their first issue was published, is the leader in a long line of online newspapers that have added a new word to our vocabulary; “paywall”.
A paywall is a “method of restricting access to online content via a paid subscription as a way to increase revenue after years of decline in paid print readership and advertising revenue”, as cited by Wikipedia.
The WSJ is not the only online newspaper to do this. The New York Times, The Boston Globe and the Financial Times also require payment or some form of subscription service to read the articles they publish. Is this the type of service their customers desire?
Well, some may say this makes sense because consumers have moved away from print news and on to online sources. Charging for access to this online content is a way of generating revenue to offset these losses. That’s a fair statement.
But, as Dan Kennedy writes in the Guardian, which doesn’t charge for their online content by the way;
“After several years of trying to make a go of free access supported by advertising, news organizations are once again poised to try charging for online content.”
“Now, I have no philosophical objection to the idea that news organizations ought to be able to charge for their online content. The problem is that it’s highly unlikely to work – mainly because there are too many sources of free, high-quality news with which they’re competing.”
An example of the negative effects of a paywall, even with a rock-bottom price — 99 cents for a 13-week introductory period, or just over 4 cents a week, and $1.99 for each week after that — traffic is down sharply at the NY Daily News after they instituted their paywall on February 1, 2018.
Page views in February plummeted a staggering 45 percent over the same month last year, according to comScore, to 109 million from 197 million. The number of unique visitors dropped just 12 percent, to 25.9 million in February, according to comScore.
Now, let’s put this in the context of a retail business located on a busy street in the main shopping district of your town.
Row after row of big box stores, small “mom & pop” businesses and national chains all vie for your attention. Neon signs light up the street. Bold lettering and bright window displays shout “Come inside and see what we offer”. They battle for your attention.
Something catches your attention in the store window across the street. After navigating the traffic, you reach the store and turn the handle on the door. It’s locked.
Just then an employee holds up a sign that reads “You have 5 free opportunities to browse our store. Subscribe today for unlimited access”. Or this one; “We hope you’ve enjoyed your free shopping. Continue shopping by subscribing today” (The Boston Globe).
Or worse yet they let you into the store to view the merchandise on the first few tables or racks, but you are prohibited from seeing the remaining merchandise unless you pay their fee.
Are you kidding me? If that’s me I’m walking away right then. Take your “5 free opportunities and shove ‘em!
Why should anyone shop at your business when you offer the same, or similar, products as your competition down the street? Do you provide so much extra value in everything you do to justify charging me just to enter and view your offerings? I doubt so.
Just as Google News or The Associated Press each carry their take on the top stories of the day for free, there is plenty of competition that willing make it easy for you to shop without making you jump through hoops.
I like the products you offer. They’re reasonably priced and of the quality I desire.
But most of all I appreciate how you greet me with a smile as I enter. You continually show how much you value my business and welcome me with open arms. Thank you so much, that means a lot.
But, as soon as I feel you overcharge me or treat me “like a number”, that appreciation is gone. When you try to get more money from me to offset some failed business practices I’m going somewhere else. And somewhere that doesn’t have their own version of a paywall!
Am I asking for too much?