Some time last week, the usual suspects were riffing on Twitter about a post called “Where does the paywall go?” that postulates most website activity comes from a very small percentage of readers and they, consequently, must not be “paywalled off.”
Jeff Jarvis' Twitter question was phrased thusly: “Okay, so where do you put the paywall? No seriously, look at the data.” The obvious implication was that there wasn’t anywhere to put one.
I replied that I’d put it “just this side of what’s worth paying for” and was immediately dismissed by some for having missed the point.
Uh, no. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?
I tried again. Where to put the paywall may be the wrong question, based on status quo assumptions. If we’re having a paywall discussion, the more fundamental question to ask is whether you've created something worth paying for.
I realized later that a lot of folks just can’t envision a news product that’s worth paying for. While pundits nod toward The Economist, WSJ and a few speciality sites, their overwhelming consensus is that readers don’t and perhaps can’t find direct, transactional value in news. If you assume internet advertising is the primary way to pay for creating content, then you havede facto assumed that maximum traffic and/or clicks is essential.
This general question surfaced a bit later when Jay Rosen tweeted “The Big Portals’ Battle For Local: I don't think any of them--AOL, MSN, Yahoo--have cracked the code.”
I replied, “What if there's no code to crack? If grail is ad-supported local accountability journalism, I'm beginning to doubt it.”
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