Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Why I Still Don't Believe In Paywalls

By Levi Asher on Thursday, January 3, 2013 09:41 pm

I sure am going to miss Andrew Sullivan.

Actually, I hope I'll still get to read his awesome blog, which has variously enraptured and informed me for many years, even though he just announced that he's putting up a paywall. But the Daily Dish paywall will be porous, he says, and this is good news for me, since I don't want to stop reading him. Here's how he describes the mechanism he's putting in place when he moves to a new site:

Our particular version will be a meter that will be counted every time you hit a "Read on" button to expand or contract a lengthy post. You'll have a limited number of free read-ons a month, before we hit you up for $19.99. Everything else on the Dish will remain free. No link from another blog to us will ever be counted for the meter - so no blogger or writer need ever worry that a link to us will push their readers into a paywall. It won't. Ever. There is no paywall. Just a freemium-based meter. We've tried to maximize what's freely available, while monetizing those parts of the Dish where true Dishheads reside.

I say it's a paywall, and I won't be paying. That's not because I don't think $20 a month is a fair value for Andrew Sullivan, who may be the single best blogger in the history of the format. I won't pay because supporting website paywalls for editorial and news content is against my religion.

What religion? The religion, more or less, of open content and open source, which I take very seriously both as a Linux developer and a blogger. I have argued strenuously against news paywalls before on this site, especially when the New York Times began doing it, and I suppose I should feel humbled now that the New York Times is declaring that its paywall experiment has been a great success.

Well, okay: big ups to the New York Times for winning round one. But the paywall game is a long game, and the New York Times hasn't really won anything yet. They've proven that large numbers of people will pay for subscriptions, and that this can result in a modest additional revenue stream to add to their other revenue streams. It's not clear whether the Times would have earned more overall revenue without a paywall, and only time will tell whether or not website paywalls will take root as the financial basis of online news publishing, which remains a very shaky business overall.

When the New York Times put up a paywall I voted with my feet, even though I am a lifelong reader of the New York Times. I began prioritizing other news sources (Huffington Post, Politico, Daily Beast) over the New York Times for my basic news catch-ups, though I still sneak at Times articles occasionally (and of course I still read the Book Review every weekend). I have a lot of computers and a lot of browsers, so getting through their metered paywall whenever I want to read an article really isn't a problem, though avoiding the meter by constantly switching browsers is an annoyance.

But weaning myself from my daily diet of New York Times articles was easier than I expected it to be, and this may be because the Times began to acquire a slight tinge of a bad taste for me once they put up a paywall. Open content is the freshest content, and an article will always seems a little more stale if it's behind a paywall.

I am not against writers making money, and in fact I make a nice little stack every month here on Litkicks, thanks to a steady stream of high-quality advertisers via the excellent blogads.com, as well as book sales via Kindle Direct Publishing and Lulu. Writers should get paid, but website paywalls are offensive because they are barriers, even when they try to be porous, and because they introduce notions of exclusivity and commitment into the reading experience.

There's often a big psychological barrier towards joining things. Me, I'm just not a joiner. I'm an anti-joiner. I left the Cub Scouts when I was a kid, as soon as my parents let me, and never made it to the Boy Scouts. I don't belong to any church or temple, or any professional association. I'm a rabid Democrat, but I only registered as a member of the Democratic party because I had to in order to vote in primaries. It's probably the only thing I belong to, and I like to keep it that way. I don't want to have to become a Daily Dish "member" just to read the Daily Dish.

It's the idea of joining, not the money, that bothers me. There's a CVS drugstore near where I work that I have begun to avoid because the guy behind the cash register always asks me for my "CVS card", and then tries to get me to fill out a form when I tell him I don't have one. "You save ten percent," he says.

I usually really don't care about saving ten percent, especially when I'm buying a pack of gum or a six-pack of 5-Hour Energy (which is what I'm usually buying). But the guy always stares at me like I'm an idiot and shoves a blank form at me. "It's free. Just fill out and join." The last time I was there, I told him I didn't want to fill out the forms because "I don't like giving out my personal info".

This was a lie (let's face it, everybody has my personal info already -- I'm a freakin' blogger). I lied to the guy to get him off my back. I couldn't put into words the real reason I objected to filling out his form and getting a CVS card, which is simply this: I didn't want to join his stupid little club.

Maybe this is irrational, but I just don't like having to make a decision to be a member of something or not. I like to float through, and that's what I will continue to do. I'm sure this doesn't make sense to the guy at CVS, and it probably doesn't make sense to people who love to subscribe to the New York Times or to Sully's blog. But it's how I feel. I only want to read; I don't want to be a member of anybody's stupid little club.

I'll really miss Andrew Sullivan's awesome blog. Well, then again, I do have a lot of computers and a lot of browsers ...

6 Responses to "Why I Still Don't Believe In Paywalls"

by Wojciech on

Hi Levi,

you sound pretty stubborn. You sure you ain't Polish? :P

I had never heard of paywalls until I read this post. I agree with you tho, especially about the CVS card. I get the same treatment at my local CVS, but I really decided it wasn't for me when they told me I couldn't get discounts on beer or cigarettes with a CVS card, which is the only things I buy there (Oh, and once a year a birthday card for my niece). cheers!

by Levi Asher on

Stubborn? Me? ... Yeah, I guess I have been called that before.

by w.j.wiippa on

I stopped going to Barnes & Noble because they kept wanting me to become a member. I just buy from Powells.com. I am 100% satisfied with their service & selections.

You can get 2 pages of the weekly newspage from The Economist for free and then they also start emailing you other articles. I don't have time to read it but have found their scheme to be the best that I have heard of.

Paying for content, e.g., e-books, is most likely the future.

by dan s on

A paywall may as well be a firewall for me too. FOSS all the way.

by TKG on

I don't like the paywalls either.

It's hard to accept them at all when one has been on the web since the beginning. I remember when they began to come in.

ESPN very early on put up a good web site. It was free for a while and then they instituted a payment scheme for full content. That was that. I was not going to pay and I still am not.

The NY Times can say their paywall is a success, but they can say anything they want. Who knows how true it is. And, I am curious what aspect of it is a success.

I think that the possibility of subscriptions for iPad or Kindle delivery are less offensive to me and perhaps this is where their success is, if they are truly having success.

This becomes a new way to have a daily or other type of publication delivered. It's the new paperboy -- or mailman with regard to magazines.

I have not yet subscribed to any publication in such a manner, but would consider it and probably will some day.

As far as CVS cards or supermarket cards, I don't have the same problem. In fact I like them and you can save money. This is now also integrated in to the web and apps. I do enjoy looking through the deals and choosing which to include on my card so I can buy, for example, butter or other groceries cheaper.

It is all marketing I know, but it doesn't bother me at all and in fact is enjoyable.

by slog on

Agreed Levi...being subjected to constant ads on almost any given site is also somewhat annoying...

You should count your words and keep it to the point if you want me to pay...In fact I'll charge $9.99 for every article of yours I edit--it's win/win at $20.00 month..Capital...

money changes everything, Johhny Marr

The reason I'm against Roe v. Wade is because it limits right to choose...an unsafe back alley abortion. Regulated only by the free market..

AYN RAND NIPPLE NOISE

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