Thursday, August 30, 2012

The effects of a paywall, as seen by @crimelabproject

Now I don't want to be one of those starry-eyed people who shout at traditional media organizations, "Paywall bad! Free good!"

But there clearly are some benefits to making your online content easily accessible.

The whole point of putting your stuff out on the web is for people to see it, and for you to make money off of it. To greatly simplify the economic model, there are two ways to go about this, which I'll call "the cable TV way" and "the dinosaur TV way." The cable TV way is to charge people to access the content - in modern media terms, a paywall. The dinosaur TV way is to put the content out for free, and then charge advertisers for the privilege of showing ads to the people enjoying the content.

Isn't it ironic that the economic model revered by the social media types is, in the world of American television, the older of the two models - one that has been in place since the 1940s? (And if you look at radio, you'll find that same model in existence several decades before Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz posed with their first cigarettes.)

The trick, of course, is to maximize revenue. In certain circumstances, paywalls bring in higher revenue. In other circumstances, free access coupled with advertising brings in higher revenue.

I subscribe to mailings from the Crime Lab Project (visit for more information). The mailings are a list of links to various articles about crime lab work. People in the industry can then click on the links and go to the articles themselves for more information.

How do links get into the Crime Lab Project mailings? Obviously the links have to involve some aspect of crime lab work - DNA, fingerprints, coroner issues, and the like. But there's one other condition, noted at the bottom of the mailing:

Some sites may require registration to view articles. We try not to link to sites requiring paid registration or subscriptions.

The reason for this is obvious. The Crime Lab Project newsletter wants to be useful to the people who read it. In the ideal case, the reader simply clicks on the link and immediately reads the article in question. In some cases, perhaps the person might have to obtain a free account to view the article.

But the Crime Lab Project links are not useful if I click on them, and then have to pay an additional $5 a month or whatever just to view the article.

Which is why the Crime Lab Project tries to avoid firewalled articles - basically, they're of no use to me and the other readers.

Which reduces the chance that someone will pay that $5 to access it.
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