×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Learning to love the pay wall

Response encouraging as print biz navigates from free system

When Variety first established its paywall limiting online access, Jim Romenesko, an influential aggregator of media news, said he didn’t like directing readers to sites with such impediments to perusing the goods.

For journalists, the prospect of sacrificing patronage from a venue like Romenesko’s feels like a gut punch. By our very nature we want our work seen by the widest audience possible. It can be similarly frustrating when observations we make and news we break wind up being attributed to others doing follow-up stories.

Still, given the trend lines — newspapers closing, staffs reduced, TMZ setting the tone for the journalistic world — the balance between ego gratification and the blessings of a solvent employers has, for many, perhaps shifted. So with apologies to Dr. Strangelove, it’s worth exploring how some of us have learned to stop worrying and love the paywall.

Prickly questions of paywall politics are only becoming more complicated, for content producers of video as well as print, in the digital domain.

Everyone is wrestling with how to get paid for their product. The New York Times recently began restricting its Web access — and subsequently slashed in half the number of free stories available. News Corp. — having long commanded payment for the Wall Street Journal — moved in that direction with its U.K. newspapers, as has the Los Angeles Times.

Not surprisingly, there’s resistance to ponying up cash for what has been free (though Variety, as a trade, plays a slightly different game than consumer publications). Yet if aggregators start finding it more difficult to link to heavyweight publications like the Times and Journal, feeder sites — those that compile or riff on reporting by others — could potentially experience a significant void in their daily menus.

The New York Times sought to keep its content “blogger-friendly” to encourage highlighting its stories. Still, assuming promiscuous linkage undermines prodding people to ante up (why buy the cow when the milk’s free?), that strategy represents a delicate balancing act — essentially saying, “Feel free to steal this book, but be sure to credit us if you quote from it.”

Concrete answers remain elusive, just as TV producers and distributors are grappling with the proper formula for distributing TV-quality Web series, as evidenced by Netflix’s evolving strategy. Because video often comes with a higher pricetag, a blanket commitment to “free, with ads” appears to represent a model that can’t hold indefinitely.

Other publishers have been closely watching the Times’ paywall progress, with some finding the results encouraging. “We are really all in this together as an industry as we try to figure out what works,” Wayne Parrish, chief operating officer of Postmedia Network Canada Corp., told the Globe and Mail.

Eventually we’ll all know who was right — though if history is any judge, those who profess the most certainty now should probably be trusted the least.

Moreover, competitive zeal has a way of erasing the whole “we’re all in this together” mind-set. Instead, operations working without paywalls tend to be pretty snarky toward those who have them.

As a case in point, witness the gibes unleashed on the New York Times when an apparently deranged man tried to scale its building, reportedly saying he was looking for a newspaper. The Twitterati pounced, letting fly a barrage of jokes about the lengths to which people will go to sidestep the new paywall.

Nevertheless, the words of Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts echo from an interview he gave two years ago. During the Cable Show, Roberts enthusiastically discussed the prospect of capitalizing on new means of distribution such as the iPad — as opposed to viewing them as the enemy — but stressed the need to make media consumption more transactional, referencing newspapers in saying, “Page views don’t pay bills.”

Frankly, though, there might be a simpler rejoinder to naysayers from those situated behind the gates of a pay model — one that should keep even the most egomaniacal journalists from climbing the walls, and could become increasingly common in all forms of media: “Hey, at least some people are willing to pay to see my crud,” they could say. “What about yours?”

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Tom Hanks Mr Rogers A BEAUTIFUL

    Tom Hanks' Portrayal of Mister Rogers May Put Him Back in Oscar's 'Neighborhood'

    Sony recently hosted a SAG-AFTRA screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Marielle Heller-directed drama starring Matthew Rhys as a magazine writer who befriends Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. While the screening didn’t include a guild Q&A with cast or the film’s creative team, the audience was greeted with a video message from [...]

  • Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese,

    Martin Scorsese and 'The Irishman' Enter Oscar Race With World Premiere at NYFF

    Even with its three-hour run time and a short 28 days in theaters before it’s available on Netflix, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is likely to be a major contender at the Oscars. The 57th New York Film Festival opened on Friday night with the world premiere of the epic real-life mob drama. Scorsese and his [...]

  • Brad Pitt Once Upon a Time

    How Much Does Hitting the Awards Season Circuit Really Matter to Stars Like Brad Pitt?

    “Do you want an Oscar?” That’s the first question one top awards consultant asks any potential contender when they first start talking. Everyone is wondering how Brad Pitt would answer that question these days. He recently raised eyebrows and made headlines when he proclaimed that he would not be campaigning this awards season. “Oh, man. I’m [...]

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Barry Bill Hader

    Emmys 2019: Clear Favorites and Top Challengers for This Year's Winners (Column)

    If this felt like the longest, most expensive Emmy campaign in history, you might be right. For one thing, the 2019 Primetime Emmys will be held Sept. 22, which is the latest the ceremony has taken place since 2013. That also happened to be the last year of TV’s quaint, pre-streaming era, before outlets like [...]

  • Fleabag Succession Emmys

    Could 'Fleabag' and 'Succession' Be Spoilers on Emmy Night? (Column)

    At the onset, this year’s Emmy Awards felt a bit anticlimactic, as the final seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” appeared to have this year’s drama and comedy categories locked up before campaigning even began. But that’s how upsets happen: Just when we’re pretty confident about how things might go, a couple of wild [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content