The Paywall: Online press going awol?

In the introductory video provided by Lisa, Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eisen talk through the importance of open access specifically in the world of academic journals.

I’m going to take a slightly new angle on the concept of ‘free access’ online, and assess where it stands in the world of the press in today’s society.

The rapid growth of the Internet has brought with it the huge opportunity for information to be shared and viewed at any time, meaning that people can remain constantly up-to-date with the news.


This means that people are better informed, and more engaged in what is going on in the world.

But what people may be forgetting is that this journalistic content does not produce itself.

As Edmund Lee stated in 2013: “In the early days of the Internet […] traditional newspaper publishers essentially gave away their expensive-to-create content for free”. The concept of “information wants to be free” held strong, and news outlets made their content freely accessible.

However, Lee continues: “Today, the weakened industry’s survivors seem determined to get readers to pay up and they’re busily erecting electronic paywalls around their news and entertainment to make sure that happens”.

The fact of the matter is that decent journalism is “expensive-to-create”. While initially, enough profits would be made from advertising, with the continuing growth of the Internet, these advertisers have now begin to flock to cheaper rivals such as Google and Facebook, meaning many newspapers have found themselves struggling to find the means to produce good content and turned to charging their readers.

Indeed, Peter Marsh states that nearly three out of four newspapers surveyed in a poll of 45 global newspaper companies (73%) are currently charging readers to access online content.

Evening Standard’s group content director, Chris Blackhurst, explains in this video how he believes that it is inevitable that all online news content will soon go behind a paywall.

But crucially, if all newspapers were to establish a paywall and readers were to pick their paper/s and stick to them, wouldn’t online journalism lose what is unique about it: that free-flowing, ever-changing, multi-dimensional quality that Katharine Viner discusses in this video?

I find this question on the availability of online newspaper content extremely interesting and can see both sides of the argument. I look forward to delving into the matter further over the coming week and hope to come to a more informed conclusion by next Sunday.


8 responses to “The Paywall: Online press going awol?

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog May, you have made a really depth explanation about balancing the advantages and disadvantages of open access. I agree that free access to academic papers and newspapers opens a huge opportunity for everyone to remain constantly up to date with the knowledge and information.

    I like the video of National Newspaper you have shared explaining how producers struggling to survive because they can’t afford anymore to publish for free.

    Reading your blog made me curious to ask, as a student I understand that it is a huge benefit for us to have access to academic journals for free as it allow us to build our knowledge and understandings from them which have scientific quality, but don’t you think it is a big disadvantage in the long term for future students, because producers can’t afford to keep publishing for free and the quality & quantity of academic resources will suffer?


    • Thanks for your comment, Saber.

      You bring to the forefront what is an all-important question in this Topic: Does free online access to materials ultimately lead to a reduction in the quality of these materials?

      Indeed, the producers of the content (whether it be academic researchers or journalists) need to be generating an income from the time they spend writing it (it is their job!), and if the readers aren’t paying for this, then who is?

      Of course, we can talk about an ideal world in which everyone has free access to important news and information, but can the Web continue to provide this important and reliable information if no one is actually paying for it?


  2. That is a really interesting blog post, a comprehensive summary of the issue. As you mentioned towards the end of the article, the introduction of Paywalls disturbs the ‘freedom of the Web’, in the sense that a user is no longer available to access articles on the same topic, located on different websites. Hence, we effectively revert to printed newspapers era – and that certainly is not how it should work!

    This reminds me of the issue with music industry. It took them years to realise how to adapt to the new situation, and now slowly the system starts to work again (with artists’ income from Spotify exceeding income from iTunes store, for example). It is also doing so in a better manner, enabling artists with rich data on use of his music (as startup Kobalt does).

    In my opinion, this is what journalism is waiting for. Possibly, initiatives like de Correspondent (which was created through crowdfunding, and gives its paying customers an opportunity to co-create articles/have influence on the website, ) can help change the situation. Would you agree, that it is the initiatives which aim for ‘a leap forward’ that could help, not simply building Paywalls around traditional content?


    • Hi Paszcza,

      Thanks for you comment. You’ve brought up some really interesting ideas.

      The fact that the music industry seems to have actually managed to adapt to the new situation of free online content shows that the problems can be overcome. This is really promising for other industries, such as academic research and journalism, that are also facing the issue.

      As for crowdfunding in journalism, I’d never really heard of the concept, but having read the article on De Correspondent, I’m really quite inspired by the idea.

      I suppose the only problem that could arise is a lack of backers- not everyone has spare money to throw into a new concept.

      Then again, if it’s a case of either buying a subscription for an online paper or ‘joining a movement’, donating to a publication that one can actually have influence over, I think the latter wins out!

      Really interesting idea- thanks again!


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