Newspapers, Paywalls, and Core Users

(Manually) reblogged from Clay Shirky:

This may be the year where newspapers finally drop the idea of treating all news as a product, and all readers as customers . . .

Paywalls were an attempt to preserve the old mass [readers] + mass [advertisers] model after a transition to digital distribution. With so few readers willing to pay, and therefore so few readers to advertise to, paywalls instead turned newspapers into a niche+niche business. What the article threshold creates is an odd hybrid — a mass market for advertising, but a niche market for users.

More of Mr. Shirky’s post on the fundamental difference between a paywall business model and an article threshold model, e.g. a “After viewing 20 10 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site” model, can be found here.

Not that I’ve given the matter a whole lot of thought, but I’ve never thought that a pay-at-first-read and a pay-at-Nth-read (where N>1) makes such a large difference. Now that I know that it does, I’d love to see a distribution of how many readers read 1, 2, 3 . . . 10, 20 articles a month from, say, The New York Times, Salon, or The Economist. Don’t you think there must be some interesting theories to be worked out from these data? For instance, why is 10 or 20 the “right” threshold? What factors influence what is the proper threshold to set? May these theories shine a light on a viable business model for a subscription library, e.g. a Netflix service but for books?

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