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The pros and cons of paywalls

The Telegraph’s erection of a paywall around its website coupled with the news that The Sun will start charging for access later this year has resurfaced debates about the pros and cons of paying for news online.

The Telegraph and The Sun are the third and fourth most popular UK national newspapers online. attracting 3.1m and 1.8m unique browsers each day in January according to ABC.

The Telegraph.co.uk set a 20 article limit for readers and have introduced a monthly cost of £1.99 for website readers and £9.99 for tablet users. Yet one month on at the end of April it remains the UK’s third most popular national newspaper site.

Year on year it was up 29 per cent, which was a faster rate of growth than the Guardian, which is fully free to readers.

Where can the line be drawn between entitlement to free news and the fact news organisations are businesses? What effects will paywalls have on readers? What will help journalism survive and thrive?

Here’s are a few pros and cons of paywalls:

Pro

  • Journalism isn’t cheap. Running offices, sending reporters around the world costs money. Editors need to balance their books.
  • Newspaper circulation is dropping. Ipads, smartphones and Twitter have at once made journalism more interesting and coaxed evermore readers online. Paywalls are a way of adjusting to this changing market.
  • Paywalls protect a good standard of investigative, accurate, meaningful reporting. Without this news organisations restort to tactics such as the Daily Mail’s extremely effective sidebar of shame to attract the hits – and advertising revenue – necessary for a functioning business.
  • A paying audience would be worth more to advertisers who will pay for a premium audience. Advertisers look for the quality of an audience, not simply numbers.
  • Knowing more about readers (through pay publishers gain knowledge of user experience and feedback) helps sell better

Con

  • Why would someone pay for a subscription to an online site when they can get the same information on thousands of other sites for free? Paywalls would only work if there was a cooperative effort by all major publishers to create a national paywall. But would the UK not just turn to the BBC? We also have to remember that elsewhere could too be other sites: blogs, online sites, social networking. Creating a paywall is like trying to close Pandora’s box, to undo what was done when the first newspaper went online and offered its content for free.
  • Paywalls create a divide between casual and consistent readers.
  • Can we put a price on information and breaking news? Perhaps paywalls belong better in areas of niche journalism or including premium content for registered/ paying users.
  • Paywalls discourage investment. They send alarm bells ringing to deep-pocketed investors that those sites are about to lose readers. People are cheap, lazy and use the internet to scan information, not read in the same way old newspapers.
  • Paywalls are a cop out. Publishers should try to come up with creative and innovative ways of monetising journalism. For example, better advertising products.
  • Thousands of digital businesses thrive without paywalls. Newspaper digital ad sales have not kept up with the total digital ad market.
  • The internet demands a new business model for news organisations, not just tweaking the old business model. Paywalls “are exercises in tweaking not transforming”.
  • If paywalls succeed across multiple news organisations, readers cannot be expected to buy into all the paywalls that pop up. The audience will be split.
  • Paywall remove newspapers from the digital revolution. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, delivering his 2010 Hugh Cudlipp lecture, said: “If we turn our back on all this and at the same time conclude that there is nothing to learn from it then, never mind business models, we could be sleepwalking into oblivion. If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world.”
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Rae Boocock, 24. An aspiring journalist. Loves: interviewing, writing, reporting, reading, current affairs, culture, travel, food and feminism.

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