Mathew Ingram at GigaOm reminds everyone that even with a paywall in place online, a newspaper has quite a gap to fill if advertising continues to decline (as it likely will), and that relying on payments from readers does not equal freedom from pressure to generate traffic. Sample:
“But the biggest flaw in … (that) reasoning, I think, is the idea that having subscribers means newspapers won’t have to be driven by pageview-based tactics any more, and can just focus on high-quality journalism. This assumes that the readers who subscribe will be radically different creatures than the ones who read the content for free: in other words, they will only be interested in serious journalism and not celebrity news briefs or slideshows, whereas the free reader is driven only by their interest in those sleazy eyeball-grabbing tactics.
“I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think most readers who pay will still want just as many of those things, and will only continue subscribing as long as they get them — and without them, the paper’s subscription base may be loyal, but it will also be relatively tiny. This is the flip-side of the transformation that some newspapers like the NYT have already undergone, where the revenue provided by readers now exceeds the revenue provided by advertising. While that may seem like it would provide great freedom to pursue quality, it also means the the paper is even more beholden to a small group of readers …”
That being said, I think the industry still needs to move aggressively to build non-advertising revenue. Journalists just shouldn’t look forward to the day when finally they are free of business-driven demands on their time and websites.