Behind the paywall

News consumers nowadays are enjoying the most colorful world ever by surfing the Internet, accessing stories from any corner of the world, seeking information through search engines and even chatting with their favorite writers online. It is the future of journalism, but maybe the end of print media.


Facing a long time of survival problems in this information age, news organizations are struggling to find approaches to make profits through online service. Changes inevitably should be made by news media, especially newspapers. Thus, paywall, is “established” by news media between webpage content and readers. 

Dating back to 1997, The Wall Street Journal became the first major newspaper to implement a paywall. And the New York Times, one of the most successful example of using this strategy, disclosed in its 2011 Third-Quarter Report that the Times had 324,000 paid digital subscribers and paid and sponsored relationships with over 1.2 million digital users. New York Times will continue to build on its paid offerings.

Despite so much free information online, why would readers pay for New York Times? According to a report on Poynter, digital news is different. As an intangible good, it has an natural advantage over print news. And unlike those financial newspapers’ exclusivity, New York Time’s originality and convenience along with readers’ payment awareness and appreciation all contribute to its success.

The paywall, however, has its own weakness. Some softwares, like NYTClean, emerge to “solve” the blocking of paywalls. And Internet users can also easily dodge paywalls by cleaning browsers’ cache to avoid being blocked after 20 free articles/month by New York Times.

Photo/Kathy Zhu

But not all the newspapers flock to paywalls. Metro Daily in Hong Kong is one of these newspapers. Peter Kuo, CEO of Metro Hong Kong, talked about their Future Daily Project on Nov.29 at the News World Summit. He said as a pioneer of releasing free newspapers in Hong Kong, Metro Hong Kong insists delivering quality free content to MTR passengers and commuters.

Flipboard is a good example of free content application combined with phenomenal consumer experience,” said Kuo. Combining the traditional newspaper with mobile apps, Metro Hong Kong now are catering to new consumer behavior by adapting technology and integrating it into gaining readership and branding.

Meanwhile, not all the newspapers implementing paywall are as successful as WSJ and NYT. With a dramatic decrease of online readers after erecting paywall, British newspaper The Times is just the latest example. It seems now is too early to predict who is the winner in the battle of survival, but this is indeed the first time the model of free online news has been challenged by an industry-wide trend. While this is happening, new high-tech products and apps are emerging and offering unlimited access to free information.

Which model will win?


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