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An Online Newspaper Worth Paying for?

July 21st, 2010

Newspapers have been in trouble for some time.  The surge in free online news sources put a strain on all print media, especially newspapers.  Jokes have been made on sites like The Onion where they “reported” that The Boston Globe had tailored its print edition to its three remaining subscribers.  Due to the vicious cycle of low subscriber bases and lower ad rates, newspapers across the country—and even the world—have been laboring to stay afloat.

While many solutions have been posited including forcing very frequent readers of online news to pay a fee or integrating online and print advertisements, no one has found the solution to arguably the newspaper industry’s largest threat ever. Earlier this month,  The Times decided to place a “paywall” on their site after having had enough with providing premium content to readers free of charge. The Times’ paywall works very simply.  When one logs onto the site, it appears as it did in the past.  The top stories of the day grace the opening screen along with categories to go into the “paper” and an average amount of advertising.  As soon as any story, category, picture, video etc is clicked on, an interstitial pops up informing the reader that this site is now available only by subscription.

Screen shot 2010-07-21 at 3.30.06 PM

This type of window is usually dismissed as simple nuisance of online advertising, but in this case, it is no joke.  If the window is closed, the user is returned to the homepage with no hope of finishing that story about the Sri Lankan cricket player or the Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest policy.

By being the first major newspaper in the world to enact such a system, they may have given the rest of the online newspaper community an example of one way not to solve their monetization problem.  After only three weeks, metrics taken by Experian Hitwise show that readership has dropped by an astonishing 90% since February.  (This was all reported in an article in The Guardian, which did not cost a pent to view).  Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Times, believes that if the new business model takes off, it could prove to be much more lucrative than the advertising model that most online news sites currently run on.

While it remains to be seen what the newspaper industry will do to keep itself alive, it looks, at this early stage at least, like a paywall for any and all information on a newspaper website is a better way to keep people away than attract them.

Posted Under: Innovation & Technology, Media & Journalism, Storytelling
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