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Do Paywalls Ever Make Sense?

Posted by tomwiles at 10:09 PM on June 27, 2010

PaywallThere was a recent article at Arstechnica.Com describing how The Times in the U.K. ended up cutting its web traffic in half by simply requiring registration so that viewers could read their articles. Prior to this, the articles on the site were freely available. The registration requirement is in anticipation of their future paywall plans.

I have to admit that I’m one of the people who left their site more than once when I clicked on a link and was presented with the registration requirement. I’ve done the same thing on other newspaper sites as well. Will people pay for online news?

At its essence, news is often glorified gossip.

There are plenty of successful paywall sites. Here are three sites that incorporate paywalls that I personally find worthwhile enough subscribe to: Netflix.Com,  Rushlimbaugh.Com and FHU.Com.

Netflix began life as a DVD rental service and most recently added a very popular streaming service as value-added subscriber benefit behind a paywall. The Netflix streaming service helped convince me to sign up and become a customer, as well as the availability of Blu-Ray discs. If Netflix had DVD’s only, I wouldn’t be a subscriber. Streaming and Blu-Ray make me willing to open my wallet.

Rushlimbaugh.Com puts the site’s massive and growing archive behind a paywall that includes access to the Rush Limbaugh podcast version of his radio show where they perform the courtesy of cutting out all of the network ads. Being able to receive the ad-free podcast of the daily Rush Limbaugh radio program is why I subscribe. I rarely sign into the site and go behind the paywall. I want the ad-free daily podcast, so I pay, even though I could get the program for free by listening on the radio.

FHU.Com also puts a massive and growing archive of radio programs, books and video behind a paywall. I want access to this material, and since it’s a charitable organization, I am willing to donate to gain access behind the paywall and support them.

I don’t envision myself ever paying for access to a newspaper website. I have never subscribed to a printed newspaper. I used to subscribe to a number of printed computer, stereo and photography magazines, but somehow that lost its appeal a number of years ago and I let the subscriptions run out.

For a paywall site to be successful, it must have something behind that wall that people want access to. They must offer something of value that revolves around the essence of what they do best.

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