#muckedup Chat Tuesday: Paywalls

imageBy the end of 2012, more than 360 U.S. papers will charge for digital content, according to a recent post by Poynter. Among them, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, papers owned by Gannett, Tribune, MediaNews, and Media General papers owned by  Berkshire Hathaway. Next year E.W. Scripps, McClatchy and others will join the pay for play model.

In 2006, The Economist wrote that newspapers are dying. And if you’re in the business it’s hard to argue. But rising circulation revenues for papers like The New York Times, the success of mobile content and the fact that pay systems are starting to work hint at a resurgence. Hey, there’s still buyouts galore (at The Times, for instance and others), and the recent failure of online pubs like The Daily, but numbers don’t lie, and the trend to digital is stoking confidence. Check out this chart by the Newspaper Association of America and Internet Advertising Bureau, who report the rise of digital sales is big enough to make skeptics do a double-take. 

For publishers looking to increase revenue and subscribers, this is a “moment of truth" says David Carr. With most major papers jumping on the bandwagon to set up paywalls, Carr goes as far as to call them sexy. He calls this a reset moment for the industry. And in a bid to grab hold of subscribers, the mix of premium content, mobile devices and tablets make that material easier to consume and access and all the more attractive. 

But it’s not all roses. In a world where a dearth of content levels the playing field for information, and creates serious competition for eyeballs and clicks, paywalls are just not for everyone. Or every publication. 

The hard truth about paywalls, says Gawker's Hamilton Nolan, is that to trump the free content system consumers are used to, the content behind the wall has to be unique. In other words, what you get has to be something not found anywhere else. That way, it justitfies payment, rather than sending readers trolling the ‘Net for recycled versions of the same, free material. 

Sure, newspapers get a meager $1 in digital ad sales for every $25 in lost print ad revenue, and the rate at which print ad sales continue to plummet is sobering. But the fact that major pubs are shifting standards to charge for content (whether all or some) shows the change in the industry’s way of thinking. Digital is the present and future, and paywalls the vehicle to get there. 

This week on #muckedup we’re going to talk anything and everything paywalls. We want to know how and why your publication is using the platform, if at all, the very real successes and failures at work, and how to forecast where the trend is going. 

As always, we expect a very spirited discussion, and invite you to speak freely in our water cooler-esque online atmosphere where any and every voice is welcome to speak their piece. 

So join us Tuesday, December 11 at 5 pm PST / 8 pm EST for what’s sure to be a memorable edition of #muckedup.

AP