Should news be behind a paywall?
Anabel Costa-Ferreira examines online paywalls: are they a protection of media, or an elitist, money-making endeavour?
There have been innumerable occasions where an online article I have read has frustratingly remained on a cliff-hanger as websites sought an email address, donation, or monthly payment to allow me to finish reading. Now, while online access and the existence of the Internet have been entirely transformative in the way we both recite and receive news, is the idea of increasing access merely a belief as opposed to a fact?
The main introduction of paywalls started in the mid-2010s and refers to restricted access on a site unless a paid subscription is met. However, the existence of paywalls can be traced to the mid-2000s when it was first used by news sources such as The Atlantic. The change was introduced to cope with rising costs alongside the disappearing income from printed editions. At the time it was introduced, its intention was “seen as a way of protecting the existence of print business.” However, with a rapid increase in online revenue and a whole new demographic of subscribers, the paywall soon became a clever marketing ploy for rapid expansion.
While many may prefer to consume news through print editions, the accessibility and portability of digital media often makes it more popular. From obnoxiously loud BBC alerts to simplified political Instagram accounts- there are endless options to stay informed. On average, adults spend around four hours on their phones each day (likely more for students), and for many, this time is spent attempting to stay up to date on both a social and global scale. Already there is a struggle to accomplish this, due to the sheer quantity of news available, alongside the changing accuracy of developing stories. Therefore, one may argue the existence of paywalls helps overcome this, as for those of us who would rather avoid a fee we are left with a rather varied selection of reads.
While many may prefer to consume news through print editions, the accessibility and portability of digital media often makes it more popular.
However, I personally struggle to argue in favour of this, as not only does the existence of paywalls give us fewer opinions to consider (eliminating voices) but it can also be highly classist. The implication appears that those who can afford to pay should be allowed the opportunity to educate themselves on a particular topic, much like education barriers, the issue of funding here greatly impacts opportunity.
The implication appears that those who can afford to pay should be allowed the opportunity to educate themselves on a particular topic, much like education barriers, the issue of funding here greatly impacts opportunity.
Though this remains true, subscriptions do remain a crucial element in the survival of news sources. For most media outlets there remains a desperate need for funding. While it remains impossible to find a solution that pleases all there are several ways to begin to bridge the gap. For instance, making it compulsory for news sources to allow free access (or heavily discounted fees) for students or those within a certain age group. The success and increased engagement from youth schemes/memberships (available for ages 16-25) is already evident in the arts, taking for example, £5-£10 tickets for the National Theatre.
Just imagine: “To continue reading Exeposé: start your free trial today, including one-month unlimited access, followed by a monthly payment of only”. Thankfully, student newspapers do not work like this. Yet, for many of the papers we seek to emulate, this sadly remains the case.