This week, USA Today publisher Larry Kramer said his paper isn’t “unique enough” to charge readers access to its online content. Kramer, quoted in The Wrap, said, “There is so much national news out there…“I think we would lose more than we would gain.”
Paywalls started going up at newspapers and magazines years ago as the internet became one of the top destinations for information. Many people, especially people under 40, don’t spend money on print subscriptions like they used to. That’s forced newspapers to explore different ways to make money. But the debate over whether charging readers for access to online content is a smart business strategy, or a sustainable model, continues as big brands weigh in.
In Idaho, at least eight daily newspapers charge readers for web access. The most recent paper to shift to a paywalled system is the state’s largest paper, The Idaho Statesman.
That move inspired Boise’s NBC affiliate, KTVB, to take direct aim at The Statesman with this spot:
The local TV station boasts all its web content is free. Web content at my employer, StateImpact Idaho and Boise State Public Radio, isn’t behind a paywall, but we do rely on listener support (here’s a great explainer on how public radio stations are funded).
KTVB’s spot, and promotion of it on Twitter, sparked a discussion mostly among Idaho media. Watching the exchanges unfold on Twitter (and I shared my two cents), I wondered if the wrong debate was happening. In an age of media saturation, how do you justify to readers that your content, your journalism, is “unique enough” to put up that barrier to free access? By the same token, free content certainly doesn’t always equal better content.
Here’s a few of the tweets I put together: