More media paywalls rise--in price, too

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The curse of al la carte. You only get what you want but you end up paying more for it.


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Remember the pre-internet era? There were these bundles of paper called magazines that would be mailed to you every month if you paid for them. And people would regularly juggle their subscriptions as their income and expenses changed. Publishers discovered that they made more money if they offered a significant discount for the first year’s subscription. Companies sprung up whose sole purpose was to wrangle subscription discounts from publishers (usually trivially lower than the direct from publisher price), and then offer them to readers. A subscription discount firm called Publisher’s Clearinghouse discovered that they weren’t offering sufficient benefit for most people to be interested in buying from them, so they started offering a sweepstakes every year in order to increase interest in their discount service.

So, nothing new here. What is new is that online publishers seem to have all forgotten that there is wisdom to be gained from the customs of their pre-digital ancestors. So you get this mad scramble to rediscover, through trial and error, how much money you can charge for a (digital) magazine subscription without losing so many readers that you go bankrupt.


While it’s a pain in the wallet, at least for non-utility items, I can’t find much to argue about.

I either want the service or I don’t and it’s pretty clear what it’s going to cost. Moreover, much as I would like these services to exist for free, it turns out employees in these industries want to get paid, and if I’m not paying, they’re not producing.

But it does mean fragmentation, as each of us choose a few services that we can afford for a panoply of thousands.


In a few years, the amounts charged will have become more standardized (and hopefully a bit lower in some cases) as companies figure out how much they can charge without driving away subscribers. Also, right now, every company is living in a mentality that they are the only service that matters so they don’t need to think about the strain they are placing on their customers’ budgets. That will also change, and (again hopefully) you’ll see fewer blatant cash grabs where company A figures that they are so indispensable they can charge what they like without considering that most of their customers are also being charged by companies B through Z.


Great quote! You could change the phrase “online publishers” to “almost everyone in the tech industry” and it would still be true :wink:


One of the big features with those printed magazines was the secondary readership. Your publication numbers were always eclipsed by your actual readership as magazines generally had several readers at the primary delivery point and then a life of being passed along to other people eventually landing almost forgotten but still occasionally picked up in some waiting room.

The paywall model is a one payment one reader model with redistribution kept to a minimum. This makes the actual value of the subscription far lower than it does with printed media since the digital media has no value once read by the subscriber. Additionally, the social currency of being the primary subscriber of a magazine is eliminated as well. Gone is the good will and thanks earned by passing a magazine to a reader who could not otherwise afford it.


One thing that’ll hurt them badly, if they put a paywall around the whole site, is that people will drop it from their search results after being teased by too many articles that smack right into the paywall.

Browser Google News doesn’t support that, but the phone app does, and once blocked, they’re burned forever (a year or two). Probably similar with other news apps.

I hit a whole lot of media sites, but usually only for their Scientology articles. My research hobby can’t budget for subscribing to all of them.


Yeah, that’s part of the whole “our publication is so special we can charge what we want for it without regard for our readers’ budgets or for other cheaper sources of information” mentality that is infecting the publishing industry right now. There’s going to be a reckoning in the next few years as dozens of publications are forced to close shop because they have an unrealistic idea of their value to their readers.

I don’t subscribe to any paywalled reading material, and I don’t feel deprived of news, information, or commentary in any way. I don’t think I am atypical in that regard. Which means that 90% of the paywalls going up out there are going to fail.


I don’t subscribe to any paywalled material (though I pay a couple of hobby forum subscriptions) and use my extensive public library magazine collection for almost all of my hard copy magazine reading.

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Welcome to the digital media era’s death by a thousand cuts.

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I’m glad I get value for my money here


I’m surprised that there isn’t a pay-per-article service that works across publishers. For example, I may not want to subscribe to a particular magazine or newspaper (Bob’s Cheese Quarterly, say), but if I see an article that I want to read (like “The Great Cheddar/Stilton Smackdown!”) and the publication is behind a paywall, when I click on a link to the article, I’d get a message that says “Read this article for $1.50” (or whatever price the publisher chooses to set). If I click OK, my card is charged and the publisher gets most of it and the service gets a cut for handling the transaction.


That’s true with pretty much all digital content. It’s much harder if not impossible to trade/pass music around, books, video games (remember trading and borrowing Atari cartridges?). Treasures found at yard sales and thrift stores, the reuse / resale element of a purchase will soon go the way of the magazine.


I agree which is why information presented in a magazine format has more intrinsic value than the same information presented digitally.


Danny should be frustrated with himself for not understanding that he has no idea how much all these costs. I’m guessing he has no budget, nor even a basic understanding of his budget.

I remember when micropayments were supposed to be the solution to all these issues. I still think there is room for developing the concept. App stores are almost micropayment ecosystems now; remember the days when $30 was about the minimum price for software no matter how trivial? We all know the downsides of these walled gardens but they do provide some level of trust that you won’t accidentally download an app with automatic looping in app purchases of ‘drain my bank account’. That is the main reason that micropayments haven’t taken off; like 900 numbers in the 80s they are a magnet for fraud. A well curated walled garden could solve many of these issues.

In the meantime I am happy to subscribe to Texture which lets me read almost any print magazine for about $10/Mo (which I have yet to pay since I combined some holiday offers with discounts to get something like 6 months for $15). I just wish they had an OSX client.


The problem is that online publishers seem to think a single article or episode for $1-$1.50 is a “micro payment”. Very rarely will I purchase something at those rates but I always feel extorted and it’s a guarantee I won’t be back for the long term.


I would be curious to see the effect paywalls have on filtering an audience.

For instance, let’s say you have a newspaper that tends to lean towards liberal opinion who publishes an article with a headline that would entice both liberal and conservative readers. If there is a paywall would the liberals be more likely to pay either a micro-payment or subscription than the conservatives? Vice versa?

I suspect that in this example the liberals being the primary audience would be more likely to pay. Over time this means your walled garden would be largely populated with people who agree with one another.

What effect would this have for the bean counters?

What effect would it have on healthy debate and discourse in that newpaper’s readership?

Really the same could be said of Twitter, Facebook or any other forum. Did this effect cause Democratic voters to be complacent in the 2016 election because “Everybody” knew dRumpf was a rascist psycho conman and no rational person would actually vote for him?