Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall

1 Department of Psychology, Columbia University , New York, New York.
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (Impact Factor: 2.18). 10/2012; 15(12). DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0251
Source: PubMed


Abstract In a national online longitudinal survey, participants reported their attitudes and behaviors in response to the recently implemented metered paywall by the New York Times. Previously free online content now requires a digital subscription to access beyond a small free monthly allotment. Participants were surveyed shortly after the paywall was announced and again 11 weeks after it was implemented to understand how they would react and adapt to this change. Most readers planned not to pay and ultimately did not. Instead, they devalued the newspaper, visited its Web site less frequently, and used loopholes, particularly those who thought the paywall would lead to inequality. Results of an experimental justification manipulation revealed that framing the paywall in terms of financial necessity moderately increased support and willingness to pay. Framing the paywall in terms of a profit motive proved to be a noncompelling justification, sharply decreasing both support and willingness to pay. Results suggest that people react negatively to paying for previously free content, but change can be facilitated with compelling justifications that emphasize fairness.

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    • "Both Herbert & Thurman (2007) and Brandstetter & Schmalhofer (2014) assert that content of a unique character (i.e., content of a high quality or about a subject matters that do not exist on competing news outlets) is considered a most important parameter when attracting paying audiences online. And in a related, experimental study, Cook & Attari (2012) find that the justification provided by the legacy newspaper organization for launching digital subscription plays a decisive role in forming audiences' willingness to pay. "
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    ABSTRACT: After more than a decade of giving online news away for free, legacy newspaper organisations in many Western countries have recently begun charging audiences for access to online journalistic content. Focusing empirically on a Danish case, this article uses one survey (n = 1054) and two focus groups to examine audiences' attitudes toward paying for online news. The analysis suggests that audiences' general principles regarding paying for online news influence their willingness to pay more than the size of the subscription fee. Furthermore, the analysis shows that younger audiences' willingness to pay increases if they can combine content from different news providers and thereby individualise their news products. The latter in particular can have practical implications as it presents a way forward for economically challenged legacy newspaper organisations, but it might also compromise the democratic ideals of journalism.
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