I share article excerpts with friends and family frequently. Sometimes it’s something fun like a Buzzfeed listicle, but most times, it’s an article relevant to shared interests or recent conversations. Paywalls almost always put a huge wrench in this, to the point that a good friend asked if I could share a synopsis or quote since they can not access the greater article.
I understand why paywalls exist and the importance of paying journalists what they are worth, but paywalls continue to feel like the wrong solution. I read various publications, many filled with ads, and subscribing to them is not in my budget. Some of my favorite sources of content include places that, regardless of how great an article may be, I avoid sharing or referencing because I know the burden I’m passing on to others.
As I’m reminded of a great piece by John Gruber what I continue to see is the popular media having a smaller and smaller presence and relevance as they lock more content behind paywalls and inadvertently increase the amount of independent media sources. This is not on its own wrong, but as popular voices become inaccessible, they can’t speak truth to lies spread by more viral and independent sources.
I would easily argue that paywalls and preventing access to content are behind the rise of false viral content being spread on social media. When the source is not available, you are limited to finding a new voice and message to trust.
In addition to trust, paywalls must also fight subscription burnout. I’m from New Orleans and have lived in many cities beyond my hometown. As such, I struggle with the choices on which local news authority to subscribe to and commonly find myself disregarding articles shared by my parents or friends because I looked at my 3 articles that month for a daily that is no longer a daily for me. Like all subscriptions these days, I need to choose the options that bring me the most value, and sadly that limits me and prevents me from reading all the news sources I so wish I had regular access to.
This situation baffles me because many governments hope to save our traditional media with fines targeted at aggregators and social networks like Facebook. Facebook is right. Why should they pay for this content? Others will duplicate, replicate, or write their own content and continue to diminish the value of the original source or quickly supplant them with a more modern Instagram or TikTok view of the media.
In this post alone, I passed up several publications links because those would require you to subscribe to view. Something has to change, but time and time again, we have found that locking up content and preventing access is a recipe for decline. After all, when was Howard Stern last relevant?