Why Paywalls Are Bad Business

by Zoe Pollock

Felix Salmon predicts that the NYT will lose to sites like the Huffington Post:

One of the paradoxes of news media is that most of the time, the more you’re paying to use it, the harder it is to navigate. Sites like HuffPo make navigation effortless, while it can take weeks or months to learn how to properly use a Bloomberg or Westlaw terminal. Once the NYT implements its paywall, it’s locking itself into that broken system: it will be providing an expensive service to a self-selecting rich elite who are willing to put in the time to learn how to use it. Meanwhile, most Americans will happily get their news from friendlier and much more approachable free services like HuffPo.

Rather than learning from or trying to emulate HuffPo’s hugely valuable editorial technology, then, the NYT is sticking its head in the sand and retreating to a defensive stance of trying to make as much money as possible from its core loyal readers. There’s no growth in such a strategy. Indeed, the opposite is true: the NYT is making it both hard and expensive to become a core loyal reader. Meanwhile, the open web will become ever more accessible and social, with friends pointing friends to news in a site-agnostic manner. The NYT is distancing itself from that conversation, standing proud and aloof. It’s a strategy which is doomed to fail.