By Katerina Tiliakou
James Nadal, who runs the Hillingdon Is Here website, spoke after The Sun newspaper announced it was scrapping its paywall and offering its stories for free in a bid to compete with its rivals. A paywall can be defined as a page on a website that stops a reader from seeing other pages on that website unless they pay or have already paid.
Nadal said, “Paywalls proved that they are good in theory, but they led to less readership because everybody is used to having everything for free. A large number of newspapers are afraid of using paywalls.”
It is widely known that big companies gain extravagant amounts of money due to the use of paywalls. Moreover, these companies are trying to attract subscribers who prefer to read print newspapers in order to increase their popularity.
The newspaper and entire print industry are going through a difficult time with advertisers dropping left and right and their subscriber bases showing a downward trend. In the past a reader could have a free access to newsrooms, but now for further details some websites and online newspapers demand a subscription for further content (paywalls).
It is not easy for a reader to deal with paywalls. More specifically, many people read for pleasure and even more when it is offered for free. Paying for a story may be a shock for subscribers, as they are not used to this phenomenon.
Another issue is that the UK uses paywalls extremely rarely, even though is considered as one of the countries with the biggest advertising history, according to the Digital News Report. British newsrooms are trying to avoid the paywall trend.
“I don’t think paywalls are an answer for general news websites. Paywalls work where you have a specific unique value that is worth paying for. The Financial Times can have one because the information you get from it could be the difference to you doing your job. Putting a paywall in front of celebrity pictures or political news isn’t going to work because there is genuinely never going to be a situation where someone else isn’t covering the same story for free on the web.”
Belam continues, “So you are left with the question of what you have uniquely and what people are willing to pay for. I don’t think anything other than business-to-business publications or specialists like the FT can afford to put their content behind a paywall.”
“It is worth noting The Times however. Their paywall has drastically reduced their online audience, but it is noticeable that their print circulation figures are dropping a lot slower than the other traditional serious broadsheets in the UK. It is possible that their paywall has worked as a business strategy for keeping print circulation figures up, rather than as a revenue-raising move in itself.”
Paywalls come with both advantages and disadvantages. When someone spends an amount of money for access to better content, the content provider has a responsibility to release more interesting stories with better qualities. Another advantage of paywalls is the loyal followers it makes. Moreover, when people invest money on a newsroom they help it to become more professional. Public figures can also use the sources that they pay, like the PhD researchers who can find sources that are available only on websites with paywalls.
However, there are also disadvantages. There are many who avoid spending small amounts money on the Internet. Another contradictory factor is that advertising companies are becoming richer and richer because of the use of paywalls. It is also very difficult for local newspapers to use them, as people prefer to read the news from newspapers with higher status. Unfortunately, there are free alternatives and as a consequence people become less tempted to pay.
It is concluded that paywalls can be a short-term solution, as they do not work for everyone and people are not obliged to pay due to the free alternatives on the newsrooms.