Making News Pay

Is it possible to design a paywall that’s both permeable and profitable?

After years in which discussion of getting readers to pay for news was out of fashion, momentum seems to be shifting in the Great Paywall Debate. James Fallows recently told us that the savants at Google take it for granted that readers will eventually pay for news. David Remnick says the same thing. CJR’s own Ryan Chittum, of course, has been arguing for some time that some form of online subscription is necessary.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details: specifically, how to design a wall that respects the openness and connectivity of the Web but still extracts revenue from dedicated readers. The New York Times, in the midst of what must be the world’s most-prolonged paywall roll-out, is grappling with just that dilemma. And per Peter Kafka, the Times says it wants to create a “blogger-friendly” paywall:

Once the pay model is implemented next year, the majority of our readers will be unaffected when using the site and will continue to have the same experience they have always had. Readers will only be prompted to pay after reaching a certain reading limit. The pay model will be designed so readers that are referred from third party sites such as blogs will be able to access that content without hitting their limit, enabling to continue being a part of the open web. We have not yet set the reading limit and we will communicate that once we have made the decision.

The whole plan has yet to be unveiled, but we want to know: Do you think it’s possible to design a paywall that’s both permeable and profitable? Can news organizations keep a foot in both camps? And if so, what are the keys to making it work?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.