Felix Salmon makes the case for the New York Times’ version of a paywall, which in the Times’ case is a “leaky” wall, not hard to avoid and, as Salmon points out, not even trying to block a great deal of traffic. The argument is that letting access remain fairly easy encourages frequent visitors, and then the paywall reminds them of how they can pay for this thing they like so much. Though to me that sounds like putting up a sign on an open park saying it costs $5 to enter the park, then hiring a bum to carry a jar around and poke people while asking if they’ve paid yet. If the argument carries water, why not have no paywall but have a prominent button on every page where people can choose to pay as much as they like? If they WANT to pay to support the Times because they love it so much, that should work, shouldn’t it? Have Sally Struthers record a video intro. “Just $5 a day can feed an investigative reporter who otherwise would sit home in his underwear and blog. He’s waiting.”
Not that I’m against the idea that people should pay for news. I’m just on the fence myself on the topic of paywalls. I can see merit to the argument that paywalls inevitably will turn news sites into niche products targeting a wealthier demographic rather than general-interest sites benefitting the public at-large without regard to payment. However, that’s kind of what newspapers have become anyway, while television (free news) has become the main place most people get their news. There are varying approaches to paywalls. As I said a couple days ago, the experiments continue.
8/16/2011 UPDATE: At Poynter.org, Jeff Sonderman makes an excellent point about “leaky” paywalls — that essentially is the same pay model as is used for the print edition. More:
“The Newspaper Association of America has long claimed there are 2.3 readers for every print edition circulated — which means more people were picking up a loose paper at their kitchen table, coffee shop or subway station than were buying one. And when someone drops a quarter into a newspaper box on the street, you could get away with taking an extra copy (or all of them).
“So, if it’s always been possible on any given day to pick up the local paper somewhere for free, why did people ever pay? Not because they had to, but because it was easier to get it placed on their doorstep every morning (convenience), because they felt if they were going to read it every day they ought to pay (duty), or because they wanted to support the institution and people that produced it (appreciation).
“Those are the same three reasons someone might subscribe to the The New York Times’ digital content.”