Why News Archived Behind Paywall Fails
January 22, 2010
One business model for online news that has been suggested, tried, and failed, is to make the news free for some short time, and then archive it behind a pay-wall. There is more than one reason why this doesn’t work as a business model, but the most obvious one is an old adage that should have been well known in the newspaper industry: yesterday’s news wraps today’s fish.
It should not come as a surprise that it is hard to find people willing to pay good money for yesterday’s news, especially in the age of 24 hour TV news and instant digital dissemination over the Internet. Old news does have value to historians and researchers, but only after it has faded from the collective memory, decades after the fact. In the space between breaking news and historical research, the value of that content becomes nearly impossible to extract.
Placing news articles behind the pay-wall also fails for another reason: it breaks the web. Rather, it is counter to the way the web works.
Web pages accumulate links, which are crawled by search engines, raising the relative “value” of that page in search algorithms. The more links you have to your content, the more likely that your content will get significant traffic from search results. Content hidden behind a pay-wall cannot easily accumulate links, and visitors from search engines may find only a barrier page demanding payment rather than the content they were actually searching for. The chance of that visitor reaching for his credit card is much lower than the chance that she will hit the Back button and move on to the next (free) site in the search results.
Certainly there are successful business models where people pay for access to information. Online news archives, however, are more valuable, both to their creators and their consumers, when they are visible to search engines and available at no charge.