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Can Social Media Break Through the Paywall? February 5, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in InformationIssues.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
3 comments

Newspapers have been struggling to maintain revenue and readership, as readers have replaced their print subscriptions with free online resources. Notably, the New York Times recently announced it was considering putting its online content behind a paywall, meaning it would only be available to subscribers. This comes following a number of other print media sources installing paywalls, including the Wall Street Journal.

But these days, social media plays a huge role in the spread of all kinds of media, whether it is a video going viral, or a news scoop breaking on CNN’s Twitter feed, or an announcement of award nominees on the Oscars’ Facebook Page.

That’s because people like to be connected and find things in common. Before the Internet, before TV, before radio, before paper even, people would gather and spread the news or stories. The only reason some of the ancient classics have survived was because of the oral tradition of gathering together and repeating stories over and over through the ages.

Now, I’m not even remotely trying to claim that we need to be able to share news through social media for posterity, just pointing out that it is in man’s nature to want to share the things he finds interesting (at least that’s how it seems to me).  Whether it is through Facebook or Twitter, or even e-mail, sharing links to interesting stories or funny pictures, or current events – its a way of connecting with each other.

For better or for worse, more and more the electronic connections are replacing the face-to-face connections, or even the voice-to-voice. It’s not just kids and teenagers either – email and instant messaging have replaced walking down the hall in offices, and texting has replaced phone calls for many people. With many of my friends (if they can even still be called that) the only interaction we have any more is sharing articles and bits of information found on the internet with each other, via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or even this blog.

You might be surprised to know that I am actually a proponent of Intellectual Property Laws. I understand why and how they are are intended to work to promote progress and the proliferation of information, when not abused to prevent it. Maybe I’ll try and explain it someday, but for now, lets just say I get why the newspapers feel not only the need, but the right to limit access to their content. And I’m not going to argue that I would feel differently if it was my company that was hemorrhaging profits while giving away product for free. However, knowing how people interact with their news and their media, and their sharing sites, it still seems to me refusing to allow users to share content is a mistake.

This article points out that newspapers who put their content behind a paywall, do in fact see a drop in traffic to their site, which in turn leads to less revenue from advertising. Can the revenue generated by subscription fees make up that difference? We’ll have to wait and see… But, the problem of sharing still remains… how many users will want to subscribe and support a site that doesn’t allow them to share their favorite topics?

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