The Washington Post has every right to charge for its Web content; I just don't expect to be paying
I've been meaning to say something about this week's announcement that the Washington Post is going to begin charging "frequent users" of its website, defined as "those who look at more than 20 articles or multimedia features." As of Monday's announcement, "the company has not decided how much it will charge."
Notably, the report indicated that the paper --
will exempt large parts of its audience from having to pay the fees. Its home-delivery subscribers will have free access to all of The Post’s digital products, and students, teachers, school administrators, government employees and military personnel will have unlimited access to the Web site while in their schools and workplaces.So it's not quite like the New York Times's model, but it sounds pretty similar.
Access to The Post’s home page, section front pages and classified ads will not be limited.
I would just make two points.
(1) The Post has every right to do this, and may be behaving very sensibly. As I pointed out in connection with the Times's new scheme when it was announced, it's kind of insane for the paper to be investing so much in creating content without being able to make a buck off it. Sure, we like getting it free, but somebody's got to pay for the creation of that content, or in time we're just not going to have it, or we'll have it in a form that we wish we didn't.
At the same time, though, I don't expect to be participating as one of those for-pay frequent users, just as I haven't participated in the Times's. And no, I'm not really interested in computer tricks that would enable me to override the website "counter." Everyone has to make these choices for him/herself, but to me that's stealing. I do, on occasion, search for links off the NYT site that will take me to stuff like Paul Krugman's columns, but I consider that legit -- the NYT explicitly ruled such links not subject to charge.
To be honest, in case it hasn't been obvious, since the NYT policy went into effect, I typically use WaPo sources here, and I guess I won't be doing that anymore. I guess I'll be getting my doses of E. J. Dionne Jr. and Harold Meyerson the way I get my Krugman fixes.
(2) The other point is one that was made by the Post's Steven Mufson in his report on the change. There appears to be some doubt in the Washington Post Co.'s higher ranks about the paywall idea. In fact, the very highest rank.
Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co., has been among those in the journalism industry most concerned about possible adverse effects of charging for online content, but he has agreed to the model.Interesting, I thought.
"We are obviously looking at paywalls of every type. But the reason we haven't adopted one yet is that we haven't found one that actually adds to profits,” Graham said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in December. "But we are going to continue to study every model of paywall and think about that, as well as think about keeping it free.”
Unlike the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, The Post has traditionally been a local business, pulling in large amounts of advertising from area merchants eager to reach the print edition's audience. By contrast, 90 percent of The Post's online audience is outside the Washington area.
Graham said at the New York conference that a paywall could drive away some of the paper's digital audience and thus push away advertisers and cost the paper "a very significant amount of digital advertising.” Digital advertising makes up about a fifth of total advertising for the newspaper, Post executives said at the staff meeting Monday.
But Monday, [Post publisher Katharine] Weymouth said in an interview that "we really are a 24-7 publisher of news. To separate our print from our online subscription models doesn't make sense anymore. We've watched our peers in the industry, and we think the metered model is the best way to keep our reach while asking our readers to help pay for the quality journalism we are known for.”