News from the Edge

The fee vs. free content debate: Part 1

Posted by Wes Fleming on Feb 11, 2016 11:55:18 AM

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I’ll never forget the day the New York Times put up its pay wall. They had been talking about it for months – in the light of waning subscription numbers, because of waning advertising dollars, they said, we have no choice but to ask you to pay for the news you read on your computer. I used the NYT as one of my go-to sources for news, along with a paper copy of the Washington Post I picked up every day on my way to work.

The New York Times implemented what’s called a soft pay wall – you can read 10 articles each month before they cut you off. I hit the wall on the very first day; every article I clicked on after that greeted me with an invitation to subscribe using my credit card for instant access.

Of the news providers that have websites, roughly 75% of them now have pay walls. Most – about 60% - are like the Times and WaPost – soft pay walls. The rest (like the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times) have hard pay walls – that is, you might see just a headline or one paragraph of text, but the rest you have to pay to see.

You might think that since I’ve worked in the content business since 2002, I’d be all for the pay walls, but initially I was most decidedly not a fan. I’d been reading the NYT and WaPost websites for years, and I felt betrayed that they’d turned the tables on me, demanding money for their hard work.

That’s what turned me around – their hard work. Reporters have to pay rent. Editors have to eat. Photographers have to pay off student loans. They can’t do what they have to do to survive if nobody buys the newspapers, and in 2016, hard-copy newspapers are dwindling fast.

Blog_21.jpgThe trouble is – and I’m not fond of putting so fine a point on it – that most of the news that newspaper websites want me to pay for I can find online for free with a quick Yahoo or Google search. This creates a line in the virtual sand: on one side is paid content, on the other side is free content.

In the next blog post we will discuss both sides of the equation; when free pays off and when it doesn’t. On which side do you reside?

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Topics: Content, content management, content evaluation

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