Why Readers Should Pay For All Content

In previous posts, I have complained about the short-sighted approach of publishers and advertisers alike in the way they treat readers. I have argued vehemently against those who have accused readers of “stealing” or “breaking agreements” if they use ad blockers. I have suggested that publishers and advertisers should find ways to make the reader experience less offensive.

However, I have finally come to the conclusion that none of these approaches could ever work. Instead, I think the best solution is for all publishers to come together and agree to charge readers for content. Before you accuse me of having lost my mind, let me explain why I think this would work — and have a number of unexpected, positive side effects besides.

It’s true that paywalls have not worked in the past (with few exceptions), but this is most likely because they cannot work unless they are ubiquitous. So, let’s make paywalls universal, and create a watchdog organization (or repurpose one of the existing ones) that will strike against any publisher refusing to toe the line. Nothing like a little denial-of-service attack to discourage defectors.



As I started to contemplate the chain reaction that this no-free-content idea would initiate, I became increasingly excited. Let me elucidate.

First, if everyone had a paywall, readers would be forced to think carefully about what content they consume. Think about the productivity increase if all workers stopped reading articles about the “seven actresses you never knew had fake boobs.”

Second, I estimate that roughly 90% of all existing “content” sites would quickly go out of business, market forces being what they are. No more wasting time trying to figure out on which of 127,564 news sites I should read that story about Trump’s latest offensive remark.

Third, the same market forces that drove the riffraff out of business would maximize the probability that only the best publishers (or those with the best lawyers?) would survive. At long last, these high-quality publishers would become highly profitable as they could go back to making money for what they are good at: viz., writing content.

You may ask, what about all the poor writers and editors who would lose their jobs? And how would marketers peddle their offerings to the readers of the world? And here is where the idea gets even more exciting.

First, relieved of the burden of having to deal with advertisers, publishers could get rid of deadweight, including all ad ops and ad sales personnel. This would enable them to hire back some of the writers and editors they had to lay off.

Second, the current “separation of church and state” between editorial and revenue-generation would disappear. This would immediately and dramatically improve the mental health of writers and editors everywhere, which would make them generate better content, which would draw even more paying readers, and so on. A virtuous cycle, indeed.

But that’s not all. Marketers would suddenly have to find other ways of reaching consumers. What better solution than to hire the large number of unemployed writers and editors, who could dedicate their writing skills to creating dazzling, fascinating, informative content about products? This content could then be used to draw visitors who actually give a damn about the products. At last, the term native advertising might stop being a mere euphemism!

Of course, the chain reaction would spread to other areas: many ad-tech companies would have to reinvent themselves or go out of business. But if you know anything about technology companies, you know that there is a massive shortage of tech talent, so the sudden increase in talent supply would actually stimulate more reasonable wages, enabling more companies to drive more innovation.

See why I am so excited? I hope you will join me in asking online publishing concerns to put their weight behind this exciting idea and turn it into reality!

9 comments about "Why Readers Should Pay For All Content".
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  1. Bruce Carlisle from Survata, March 24, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.

    I see two huge problems and too many smaller ones to enumerate.  I can't even tell if this is a serious proposal:

    1. It's illegal. Collusion on pricing violates the basic tenets of anti-trust law.  Aside from the low likelihood that you could get an entire industry to watch their audiences shrink by say 90% overnight, the FTC would call price fixing in a New York minute.
    2. The assumption that a group of trained professional journalists will suddenly en masse switch careers to becoming ad copywriters and branded content producers and be happy about is insulting at best.

    i don't have the single andwer solution by any means in part because I don't think there is one single solution. Individual publishers will have to make their own decisions about how to deal with challenges that new technologies and behaviors thrust upon them.

  2. Brian Hews from Hews Media Group-Community News, March 24, 2016 at 3:38 p.m.

    TOTALLY AGREE with article. It takes money to operate the company, money to pay the reporter, money to edit the article, money to print the article, money to post the article on the website. Why is it such a bad thing to charge readers? I own a local print newspaper, free, 60/40 advertising to editorial. I rely sole on advertising revenue to operate. Our news is hyper-local no one else can get it except from this tell me why can't we charge without readers screaming????

  3. Michael Schmidlen from Of Eleven Media, LLC, March 24, 2016 at 3:50 p.m.

    "MagTitan" & "Ad Einstein" are another viable solution to this issue, and both are "live" & being increasingly utilized by both current & new publishers.

  4. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., March 24, 2016 at 3:54 p.m.

    @Bruce - I thought the sarcastic tone was sufficiently clear :-). No, I am not suggesting this as a really practical solution, but I thought it amusing to contemplate some of the possible repercussions of such a move.

  5. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., March 24, 2016 at 4:05 p.m.

    @Brian: in my opinion you are the victim of the industry-wide decision to move to advertising-supported content. Readers are attracted by "free," which in turn attracts thousands of "publishers" who, unlike you, do not offer anything particularly unique or valuable. But by making it temporarily ad-free they build audiences, then start selling advertising. At which point the reader, who has no reason to be loyal (or to feel like they should be paying), will simply point their browser to the next "free" publication. And in the process, someone like yourself who has truly unique content will suffer the wrath of the reader if you try to charge for the content.

    On the up side, people seem much less bothered by print ads (thank goodness nobody has invented paper pop-up ads), so you have the fortune that people still read your print newspaper, and advertisers are still willing to pay for it.

  6. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 24, 2016 at 6:25 p.m.

    People are less bothered by print ads because they are so easy to ignore.

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 24, 2016 at 6:44 p.m.

    Actually, Douglas, many magazine readers welcome the ads in their favorite publications---especially those with a strong thematic orientation--- and regard them as important plusses. Starch ad recall scores for typical magazine page four-color ads average about 45-50%.

  8. Daniel Wheeler from Republican American, March 25, 2016 at 9:20 a.m.

    There are so many reasons this wont work.  As soon as one site gives the content away for free the whole thing falls apart.

    Getting the AP to stop selling the content to anybody who wants it might help.  you can get all the world and national news on a Nintento Wii.  
    The only thing you can put a paywall in front of is the content your company creates not the content that is available everywhere else.

    The best way to make your site successfull is to make your content relevent.  Give the readers something they truly want, not what you think they need, and people will pay.  
    No site can be 100 percent behind a paywall.  Sites like Consumer Reports, which has unique and valued content still has give some content away for free.

    Are you actually promoting using Denial of Service attacks?  DOS attacks effect much more than just the website that 'think' you are attacking. They can effect the whole data center.  That you would even suggest something like this shows how much you don't know.

  9. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, March 26, 2016 at 3:42 p.m.

    In spite (or because of) the sarcastic tone, I read "as if" it were a real proposal. But... one nagging question: HOW... do I know what is good or not? Worth it or not? The WSJ had one solution (give me a teaser of the article); the New York Times had another (a set number of articles per month) and, in cases such as your own column... would I consider paying for it if I didn't read it?

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