Metered paywalls are the most popular income idea to arise since the newspaper industry was flooded with low-budget competitors.
It’s also a fundamentally flawed business model that goes against the best interests of journalists and their readers, and it’s doomed to fail.
Why? The paywall is inherently in conflict with journalism’s primary goal: to educate and inform the public about important issues. When the papers say, “this is so important that we’re making it free,” they’re simultaneously saying that all the other stuff they publish doesn’t really matter, so they’ll charge you for it. It’s hard to imagine a business philosophy that’s more upside-down.
Paywalls may eke out a profit, but they also accelerate a newspaper’s nightmare scenario — that readers will leave the site, try the free stuff, and decide it’s pretty much the same. Or worse, they might just put down their phones and go outside.
This is the opposite of how human brains work in the ink-and-paper world. When you buy a physical publication, you decide whether it’s valuable before you read — and the publisher doesn’t care if you subsequently read one article or 20.