Feeling a little feisty as I prepare to moderate a panel at the INMA Audience Summit this fall. The topic is paywalls. This session needs to be different and help the industry reach consensus. The panel will be structured like a high school debate so we can hear the arguments, cross-examine, and rebut. As I think back to my high school debate days, it goes something like this:
Representing the affirmative team advocating for paywalls,
“constructive” speech for the affirmative:
Quality news and information is valuable, and a fair price should be charged for its access — regardless of platform. In fact, a case could be made that dynamic, multi-media, digital news is more valuable than print.
Print revenue streams are declining. To remain viable, publishers must find new sources that monetise the investment in content creation. There’s clearly a market with millions paying between US$3 and US$9 a week for digital content in some form — be it broad or vertical content, on stationary or mobile platforms.
Without digital revenue, there are no funds to invest in content. This becomes a vicious cycle resulting in content not worth charging for.
“Cross-examination” by negative team: I’ve heard three specific contrary statements over the past few months. They are:
- Digital paywalls only work for publishers like The Wall Street Journal because most of its subscribers pass the cost on to their companies.
- Digital advertising would be negatively impacted by resulting traffic reduction.
- “Charging for digital content is as dumb as a bag of nails.”
“Rebuttal” by affirmative:
- More than three-quarters of WSJ subscriptions are paid for by individual readers — not provided by companies or even reimbursed by employers. The proportion of individuals paying for WSJ content read on mobile digital devices is even higher — closer to nine out of 10 subscribers.
- Neither The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times indicate that they have seen measurable declines in traffic as a result of either pay model. In fact, WSJ.com traffic increased 74% since 2010 and digital advertising revenue consistently charts annual gains.
- Can’t even figure out what that means — in fact, when I was a kid, my dad used to buy nails in bulk, and they were safely transported home in a bag.
Clearly, the competing high school’s bus is stuck in traffic. Care to help them out here and advocate for the alternate point of view? Or, join us in Chicago on October 4 and be part of the debate!