Paywall – Good or Bad Strategy ?


For those who didn’t hear about Paywall before – Paywall is a system that doesn’t allow users to browse web content if they don’t pay for subscription. You might have this experience before when browsing The New York Times or Wall Street Journals online: You clicked into a news link wanted to find out more about that title, and suddenly it blocked the page and showed “subscribe now to see the full story” or “You have reach your 20 free articles this month”.

To me, as a frequent researcher online, I feel pretty disappointed and annoyed about this kind of limitation. So far, I didn’t subscribe to any of this online content, expect for one time a professor required us to subscribe Wall Street Journals newspaper and it gave me free digital access, so I did it unwillingly. In my view, most of the news and articles can be found online without any cost. Also, news is news, an objective event or fact, so it doesn’t matter the reporters use what kind of tone or rhetoric.  Of course, if the reporters has unique, excellent viewpoints or analysis in their reviews, I might be willing to pay for it. But I definitely don’t want to pay for identical news that I can find on other sites for free.

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Despite that I prefer not to pay for the digital subscription, I still think there’s great opportunity in the journalism industry. Most people are on mobile now, and the online newspaper traffic has been steadily increased overtime while newspaper circulation and newspaper advertising decreased. The online advertising is increasing but is still a relatively small part of overall revenue. To adjust the business model based on the trend, journalism has to gradually move its media channel from newspaper to the internet. In my view, the new business model of the Times – “get free access to a certain number of pages and pay subscription based on devices” is very good, since the limited free access can keep website traffic from search engine and also gain revenue from loyal customers based on their choice of device. This model can act as a transition for journalism from being newspaper-oriented to digital-oriented, which is the inevitable future. I believe all online news will be free in the future, and the main revenue of journalism will come from online advertisement. If companies want to charge readers for digital subscription, they must provide very attractive content that is very different from others and worth great value in readers’ mind, or they must find another sources of income to supplement the revenue lost due to decreased newspaper subscription.

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I don’t doubt that why Jeff Bezos would want to by The Washington Post. Although there are lots of free news online and newspaper is diminishing, the society still needs outstanding journalism to create valuable and timely contents, just through a different media channel. I may consider subscribe to one of them if they show me notable difference and with reasonable price, since the value of journalism is not only about timely news, but also about finding truth and setting the values and culture of the society. The change for journalism will not be easy, but I believe it will find its way.


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