I have written perhaps too much about paywalls. I even sort of vowed once to stop writing about them (fortunately I hedged it). I think maybe I kept writing about them in hopes of someday expressing my doubts about paywalls as clearly as Mathew Ingram and Dave Winer did today.
Ingram cites three reasons newspapers shouldn’t charge for their digital content:
- “Paywalls restrict the flow of content.”
- “Paywalls are backward-looking, not forward-looking.”
- “Newspapers need to adapt, not retrench.”
Ingram had an appropriate observation about the supposed success of that strategy.
Everyone seems to have decided the New York Times paywall is a success because it has about 400,000 subscribers and it is bringing in an estimated $35 million in revenue. But that is still a drop in the bucket: according to the paper’s recent results, one of the world’s most successful paywalls is not even making up for the continuing decline in print ad revenue.
Before I could weigh in with my praise for Ingram’s piece, Winer beat me to it:
Paywalls express a desperate wish to go back to a time when there was a reason to pay. … What paywalls are really asking is how are the news people of the past going to hold their lock on the flow of information in the future. And that’s not a great question, because the answer is they aren’t.
Ingram and Winer make their points so well that I’m not going to elaborate on them here, except to encourage you to read them.
And I’ll wrap up with one question: Do you think Facebook and Google are making plans for their paywalls?
Update: This Matt Stempeck interview with Richard Gingras of Google covers a lot more ground than paywalls. But his paywall answer certainly fits in this discussion.