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Paywalls: The future of newspapers?

The New York Times, one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, began limiting access to its Internet content today through a paywall.  The New York Times is one of a growing number of newspapers, including the Pioneer Press, to start charging people to view online content.

Paywalls are the newspaper industry’s answer to the increasing use of free online content.  News consumption online increased 17% in the past year, according to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s eighth annual State of the News Media survey.  Additionally, 41% of Americans get their national and international news on the Internet.  The New York Times is a popular resource for this type of news.

Paywalls have been unpopular among consumers and often unsuccessful because news content is typically available for free online.

The New York Times’ new model will allow non-subscribers to access 20 online articles per month as well as the “Top News” sections of the Times’ smartphone and tablet apps.  Additionally, non-subscribers will have access to articles found through searches (five per day from major search engines), blogs, and social media, even if they have exceeded their 20-article limit.

When the Internet first became popular, mainstream media missed an opportunity to put a dollar value on what they produced.  However, smartphones and tablets present the media with a renewed opportunity.  Flipping through newspaper pages on an iPad is a more appealing way to read the newspaper for many people.  As a result, smartphone and tablet users are willing to pay extra for apps that will allow them to access multimedia content from newspapers and magazines, including Rupert Murdoch’s recently released tablet-only newspaper, The Daily.

The New York Times is known for its high-quality, comprehensive investigative journalism.  This type of operation simply cannot be supported by online advertising alone – it needs paid print and online subscribers.  It’s clear that the industry will not be able to survive without charging for online content.  But it’s less clear whether or not the New York Times’ paywall model will work.

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posted by Sara Thatcher on March 28, 2011

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