Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Paywalls on media websites will become more common

Once upon a time people used to pay for their news like this. Some media outlets still use paper and seem to see a future in sticking with the medium. Others are stuck in a slow decline but refuse to let go of print due to their reliance on that kind of advertising for revenues.

Online, major news companies that have set up a paywall are still playing around the margins, seeing reliance on ad placements as a losing game as volumes increase and income slides. The most common form of paywall is the monthly subscription although some media outlets offer only an annual rate. Recently, the Australian website Delimeter has started offering a three-tier set of packages: monthly (of course) but also annual and per-view. It's the last one of these that is most interesting for me as I go down the same track; I announced three weeks ago that I would take this blog behind a paywall.

But there remains the matter of disincentive to commit. For many, the barrier required to set up an account on each website will just be too much bother, and publishers will lose income as a result. So I wondered if there was perhaps another way, a method that allowed readers to maintain a digital wallet that any number of media outlets employed for their websites. Wouldn't it be great if you could charge up your digital wallet with, say, $10 and use that money all day, or all week, until it exhausted itself and required topping up? Like the way you do it now with your car toll-road tag: just go to the website and add another $50 to your account so that you can continue to use toll roads in your local or distant travels.

If social media websites continue to refuse to help media companies by tolling users for links they follow to get to news stories (I wrote a spoof about this idea earlier this year) then media companies have no option but to start looking for better ways to collect payments for the stories they create. But if an enterprising group of people could set up a cross-site platform to enable readers to maintain a single account for all of the media they consume, readers' lives would get a whole lot easier.

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