The Price of Pay Walls

Posted: November 4, 2010 in Pay Walls

Print newspaper’s websites are moving in the direction of enforcing pay walls to reap the benefits from a previously untapped source. Several sites have resorted to this method: The Wall Street Journal since its online inception and a little over a year ago. The New York Times also plans to put up its pay wall in early 2011. This past summer the London Times installed their own pay passes for daily or monthly usage.

In the article by Chris Rovzar for, the results of the pay wall that were revealed weren’t too impressive. The Times website used to have 20 million monthly viewers, but since it began requiring people to pay for content, only 105,000 passes have been sold. “Parent company News Corp is touting this as a victory for pay walls,” said Rovzar. “But British skeptics aren’t so sure.”

I tend to agree with the skeptics considering how much viewership has decreased. Advertising revenue is based on how many people view the website, therefore the drop in eyeballs could eventually lead to a decrease in ads. On the other hand, the pay wall is providing a profit in an area where it was previously non-existent. However, the minimal profits the Times is seeing could end up being a deficit if advertisers decide to pull their ads off the website. The pay wall also eliminates the possibility of other sites linking to its articles and adding exposure to the useful information the site could present. has seen a similar disappointment in revenue caused by its pay wall. There are several possible reasons for its lack of subscriptions according to the fishbowlNY article, such as its lack of national context, high price tag or the free access Cablevision subscribers are privy to. There is still a lot of debate over the future existence of the pay wall.

The Wall Street Journal website has maintained a pay wall for its entire history and has remained successful. The Journal offers financial information that can’t be found in many other places. This is most likely the reason it has lasted as long as it has and can make a profit off of its online content. Viewers are also not used to paying for the site since it has always been that way.

These are some of the models the New York Times has to look at while preparing for its transition towards requiring users to pay for online content. The Times does hold itself to a different standard than other publications. As far as daily print editions go, the Times is the most credible source for news in the country according to this google blog. Readers and viewers rely on the Times for more reliable, accountable breaking news than most other publications. This may be the saving grace that could allow to successfully begin a pay wall service that others have struggled with.

  1. Lew says:

    Being a frugal consumer, I’m not fond of pay-walls. But I do think media organizations need the additional revenue stream.

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