A couple of good friends are out the door at Newsweek/Daily Beast, as a result of layoffs and restructuring. There’s now talk of the Daily Beast going behind a paywall, as well as the Washington Post. Gawker has a sobering list of lessons that the Beast’s travails teach, among them:
5. Examples of media outlets than cannot support paywalls: mediocre or sh**ty newspapers that have decimated their newsrooms, sh**ty magazines with little quality content, sites full of mostly opinions and listicles and other entertaining but easily reproduced things of that nature, most blogs. For example, Gawker Media—a fine, fine company that entertains millions of readers online every month—would not be a good candidate for a paywall, simply because no matter how good our content is, a paywall would immediately cause readers to go and seek out similar (lower quality, of course) content elsewhere online, where it is freely available. The situation is different for, say, Jane’s Defence Weekly. The fact that readers like you is not enough to support an online paywall; readers must need you.
6. Guess which of these categories The Daily Beast falls into?
7. For media outlets that grew up online, this dynamic should not be a huge problem. Those outlets have always supported themselves with online ad revenue; they grow in response to the money they make. The problem comes for media outlets that either A) matured in print form, and swelled to huge and bloated proportions, and then, when print collapsed, found themselves trying to somehow stuff that huge, bloated operation into a sleek online casing; or B) media outlets that were founded with a big pile of money from investors, and grew bloated on that, rather than on revenue they actually earned; and when that money dried up, they found that they had all these people they needed to pay, but no real revenue.
8. Guess which of these categories The Daily Beast falls into?
I go to the Beast website multiple times throughout the day, but it’s only to read Sullivan, and lately, McArdle and Frum. How much would I be willing to pay for continued access to their stuff if I couldn’t link to their posts on my blog? I have long been in the habit of visiting the Daily Telegraph‘s website, and linking to stories I find there, but now they’ve gone behind a paywall. Is it worth it to me, sitting in south Louisiana, to pay to read a British newspaper? Depends on how much they’re asking me to pay, but probably not.
As for the Washington Post, I also visit its site multiple times per day, and often come away with articles to link to and comment on. Would I pay for it? No, I wouldn’t. If I lived in Washington, or wrote mostly about politics on this blog, I would. But I live in Louisiana, and besides, I already pay a lot of money to subscribe to a quality national newspaper, The New York Times. I keep going back and forth about whether to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal’s digital edition, because I love the Weekend Review section so much. The problem is that subscribing to the Times costs over $400 a year. Do I have an extra $300 lying around to subscribe to the Journal too? I do not. It has to be one or the other. I need to rethink which one it’s going to be. One reason I’ve stuck with the Times is that it’s much easier to use their links in this blog.
Anyway, I read fairly widely online as part of doing my job, and for pleasure, but if I had to pay, or pay significantly, for my consumption, it would radically change what I read — not because I’m stingy, necessarily, but because if forced to choose between what I enjoy reading, and what I believe I need to be reading, the bulk of my online reading would go by the wayside. And you?