Where paywalls might work

2011-04-29

in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters, Writing

Making internet browsers pay for content is a big challenge. No matter how good your stuff is, chances are someone is giving away something similarly good for free. As such, most websites opt to fund themselves through advertising.

One place paywalls do seem to have promise is for sites that people access for work-related reasons. Then, the situation is akin to the subscriptions universities have to databases of journal articles. Their staff need them, and so the organization pays the subscription fee. That’s a model that news organizations might be able to use, given that the work of many different people is affected by the information they provide.

STRATFOR is one organization experimenting with different funding models for information online. They probably have some institutional subscribers, but they also advertise directly to interested individuals, sometimes offering significant discounts to lure those whose demand is more elastic.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. June 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Academic publishing
Of goats and headaches
One of the best media businesses is also one of the most resented

HOW much would you pay for an annual subscription to Small Ruminant Research, Queueing Systems or Headache? University librarians pay rather a lot. In Britain, 65% of the money spent on content in academic libraries goes on journals, up from a little more than half ten years ago. With budgets tight, librarians are trying to resist price increases. But Derk Haank, the chief executive of Springer, a big publisher, is firm: “We have to make a living as well.”

And what a living it is. Academic journals generally get their articles for nothing and may pay little to editors and peer reviewers. They sell to the very universities that provide that cheap labour. As other media falter, academic publishers have soared. Elsevier, the biggest publisher of journals with almost 2,000 titles, cruised through the recession. Last year it made £724m ($1.1 billion) on revenues of £2 billion—an operating-profit margin of 36%.

Academic publishers have jumped deftly from paper to the internet. For more than a decade the dominant model has been the “big deal”. Publishers sell access to large bundles of electronic journals for a price based on what colleges used to pay for paper ones. Prices of big deals rise at about double the rate of inflation.

. July 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Research Journal Pirate Finds a Crewmate
by Sara Reardon on 22 July 2011, 5:15 PM

The open-access publishing movement, which seeks to make information on scientific research freely available, seems to have found some questionable allies in the hacker crowd. After 24-year old computer programmer Aaron Swartz was indicted Tuesday on charges of illegally downloading and attempting to redistribute 4.8 million scientific journal articles from the archive JSTOR, a hacker named Greg Maxwell uploaded 18,592 articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society to the online file-sharing Web site Pirate Bay yesterday as an act of “solidarity,” he said.

. August 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Constant upheaval is part and parcel of capitalism’s creative destruction, but those in the business argue that news is a special case. It may be a business, but it also plays an important part in a democracy: holding those in power to account, giving voters the information they need to make choices and making markets more efficient. To be sure, not all journalism has a civic function, and the media’s ability to expose wrongdoing is easily overstated. “People want you to think that newspapering is ‘everyone is working on the next Watergate’,” says Clay Shirky, a media guru at New York University. Most of the time it is not. But such “accountability journalism” has always been subsidised by other activities. So finding a new model to support journalism is in the interest of society as a whole.

One answer is to erect paywalls. Having long made content available free online, news providers are starting to restrict access to some or all of it to paying subscribers. The Times and Sunday Times of London, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, put up a paywall around their websites in July 2010. Other papers have since followed, including the Dallas Morning News and, most prominently, the New York Times.

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