The Postmedia Paywall Guarding Content On Sun & Province Websites Doesn’t Work
By Andrew Morrison | Postmedia isn’t sharing any metrics on how their paywall has been playing out so far, but it’s evident that the controversial move hasn’t stopped readers from…er…reading. And for free. As far as I can tell, the paywall shielding online content from The Vancouver Sun and The Province doesn’t function on mobiles (the content is still free on our office iPhones and iPads), and when we click on stories from our laptops and office computers, the only thing blocking the text is a big supplicating square – the paywall monster – begging for money and blocking our way. Only it doesn’t do the latter, at least not effectively. The monster moves with the text as you scroll, but always leaves a couple of legible lines of text at the top and bottom. Scrolling slowly renders it readable. Oops.
Accessing stories on these two websites hasn’t become impossible, it’s just become cumbersome. Aside from fiddling with the monster, people can avoid the paywall altogether by switching browsers, clearing their cookies and reloading (so we’ve heard), or by switching to a handheld device. But readers will only ever do those things when they come across a story that they really want to read. Sooner or later, they’ll just click to another website for the same (or similar) reportage, one that is less divorced from reality. TechDirt’s Mike Masnick shared his thinking on the subject last March when newspaper giant Gannett made a similar move:
I’ve spent years detailing why these kinds of paywalls don’t work. The short version is that for most newspapers, they just can’t sign up enough users to make it worthwhile. But, more importantly, paywalls actually make the paper less valuable. That’s because lots of people these days read news as part of a collaborative process, in which they want to share what they’re reading via things like Twitter and Facebook. Setting up a paywall makes that a lot harder and a lot more annoying. That makes those publications a lot less valuable in general to readers who can no longer share. On top of that, the paywall shrinks the visits and page views drastically, cutting off the (growing) online advertising opportunities.
Postmedia is working under the Maginot-like assumption that we will see their stories and feel compelled to overcome the obstacles to them on their terms, not ours. It hasn’t been working out that way. How much good money did the troubled company just throw after bad on a paywall that doesn’t even work?
Don’t get me wrong, I want to see our local newspapers flourishing online. More accurately, I want to see our local journalists enjoying secure careers instead of being steered towards early retirement or the door. Was making their content such a pain in the ass to get to a smart way of helping to turn things around? Only time will tell, but I have my doubts.