Do Paywalls Work

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By: Anton McClure;
Tags: Technology; Media; Internet;

Many news sources resort to using paywalls to generate profit. Do these paywalls actually have benefits other than some extra money?

Wall photo by Henning Schlottmann. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Wall photo by Henning Schlottmann. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

There have been many times where I've been looking for articles to use as sources on assignments, often through a quick Google or Microsoft Academic search. Unfortunately, many reputable sources were not usable since they were placed behind paywalls.

Many news sources have decided that putting articles behind a paywall would be a good solution when dealing with inexpensive or freely accessible competition. This model seems like an easy way to make money, but does this system work?

Many major news sites such as New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and Medium use a "metered paywall" system where you get so many free articles per-month before having to pay for a subscription to read more.

This system may work for some organizations, but only until there is serious news to report. Now people that would normally have read your article will have to go elsewhere if they don't want to pay to read about possibly urgent breaking news. While a paywall on such an article may raise profit margins, it can and sometimes will lead to people moving away from your site to non-paid alternatives.

Paywalls are not the digital equivalent of printed newspapers, newsletters, or any printed materials. If there's a cost when obtaining said materials, chances are you're paying for the supplies that went into producing it rather than the content. The publisher doesn't care how much you read or how many times you re-read it.

The goal of journalism (all news organizations and independently-ran blogs alike) should be focusing on educating and informing on various topics using real and proven facts. Paywalls get in the way of this by focusing on maximizing their profit over publishing content.

News and blogs, regardless of the source, tend to be the same. They cover current events, typically on how they see them. If one view is blocked by a paywall, there's nothing stopping freely-accessible (and potentially dangerous) viewpoints from being spread instead.

Tl;dr: No.

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