The New York Times paywall sprang up Tuesday, causing uproar and criticisms among the public and media circles.
This is one instance where the journalist inside me comes at odds with the business side of my industry. While I understand news companies are figuring out ways they can make profits online, paywalls are the wrong way of going at it.
A few weaknesses of a paywall are:
- Consumers will not pay for something they can get for free elsewhere (e.g., big news sites that AREN’T charging money).
- The paywall, as of now, is porous. Smart consumers can find ways of getting around it.
- The ethos of cyberculture itself is rested on the ideas of free exchange of free information and open source communities. For the most part it’s about unadulterated access. The implementation of a paywall goes against this very cultural norm of cyberspace.
- A paywall will further separate the socioeconomic barriers between the haves and have-nots. If the entire news industry decided to have paywalls, how are citizens in lower socioeconomic standing supposed to make informed-decisions in their lives when, well, they can’t even have access to free information?
The Nieman Journalism Lab has an interesting roundtable discussion posted about forecasts into where the NY Time’s paywall will go. One writer defends the paywall. I understand news companies are here to make money, but the public interest would be experiencing a big loss if paywalls are any indication of where news sites are headed.
An interesting MediaShift article “Why the New York Times’ Pay Model is Similar to NPR and Spot.Us.”