Why pay for news?

Pay walls are the inevitable future of online news sources.  With that in mind, a happy medium must be met.  There are pros and cons to pay walls, but above all, readers must remember that news cannot be free.  Those that bring the news need to eat, too, and unless readers want to be inundated with web ads, it is time to accept the pay wall.

The three articles provided offered good insight into pay walls, how they work and why they are necessary.

All three articles give the same reason for erecting pay walls, money.  Advertising on websites is not paying the bills.  News, as much as people like to believe, is not free.  Paper subscriptions have been on a steady decline, as has advertising.

The article “Why can’t newspapers make money online?” goes into this more deeply.  They have numbers and statistics of how much more expensive it is for advertisers to promote their goods on news sites and newsprint than in any other medium.  As advertisers start to realize and pull their ads, the revenue has to be made up somewhere else.  If not, the news staffers lose their job and then there is no news for the reader to read.

All three articles seem to be mostly in favor of pay walls, though the above mentioned article points out some glaring holes.

First of all, there are a lot of sites out there that still operate for free.  And there are a lot of sites devoted to just about anything.  If you don’t want to pay for an article, you can most likely find it for free somewhere else.

While I agree with this assessment, I don’t think it is death to the site with the pay wall.  An argument can be made about the legitimacy of the information.  Many will consider the articles behind a pay wall to be more legitimate than the free one.

Considering most big name news organizations, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are erecting pay walls, it is safe to say that their articles will hold more weight than free sites, such as the Huffington Post. Not to say that the information ion the Huffington Post is not legitimate news, but it is highly slanted towards a political agenda and simply does not heft the weight of a byline from the New York Times.

The articles discuss two different types of pay walls:  The hard pay wall, which requires users to pay for premium articles individually or charge a monthly fee; and the soft pay wall which allows users a set number of free articles before they are asked to pay for a subscription and denied access to content.

Of these models, the soft pay wall seems to be the lesser of two evils.  The New York Times is currently using this system and it seems to work for them.  All users have access to headlines and brief story synopsis.  They can read up to 20 articles a month for free before being prompted for a subscription.

The problem with this system is that it can be confusing to the reader.  There is no definitive break down as to what is included in free content and what eats up one of your allotted 20 free reads. The New York Times has seen subscription growth and success with this method, so it is clearly not scaring away the readers.

It seems that there is content that should consistently remain free.  Going back to the argument that information can be found anywhere these days, especially with the prevalence of blogs, keeping this type of content out of the pay wall would make sense.

Denoting premium content on a website could be tricky, even confusing.  Something as simple as a $ icon denoting paid content would seem a simple solution, though some designers would consider it gaudy.  The main concern, however, is ease of use, as always with a news website.

It’s important for the reader to understand that they will be asked to pay for content.  For example, I was researching for a term paper last semester.  In a Google search I found what would likely be the most perfect article on Time.com.  I followed the link, read the first page, clicked for page two and was told I had to buy the article. I’ve already read the first page, I knew I wanted the article, but ultimately walked away when I tried to pay for that article and was told I couldn’t buy the article, I had to pay a monthly subscription fee.  Having this sprung on me was frustrating and I decided to find my sources elsewhere.

The average web reader will most likely not consider paying.  If they know, up front, that there is a subscription service, they may look further into it.  But, pay walls will likely drive off the random reader and there is little to be done about that.  The readers who will subscribe to news sites are there for one thing, legitimate news stories. They want to be subscribers of these sources and to contribute so that news staff can continue to bring the best content possible to the web and its readers.

I am for the pay wall.  Ideally, I would want a hard pay wall, with explicit delineation between what content is free and what is to be paid for.  There is a lot of news content that should be free, user submitted blogs, for example.  Advice column, weather and important breaking news would also fall under that.  Premium services such as maps, weekly or daily columns and editorials should fall behind the pay walls along with the bigger picture news.

Offering a weekly, monthly or even yearly flat rate should be offered.  The standard seems to fall around $10 a month, so why not offer a yearly rate of $100?  Make your money up front and not worry about users unsubscribing after only a few weeks or months.

In order for news websites to succeed, they must have the staff to keep them going.  That means writers who are not only passionate about their work but are compensated for it.  Readers seem to be chased off much easier by too many ads, rather than a pay for service.  People used to pay for their news, it’s time they are reminded that good news information is not and cannot be free.


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