The Paywall Problem

This week the long-dreaded Washington Post renewal email plunked into my inbox. So ends a glorious year of reading the digital newspaper on PC and tablet. My cheap thrill ride is over: “Your subscription will be renewed for a year on Aug. 26, 2015, at the rate of $149/year. As you’ve requested, payments for your subscription to the Post are automatically charged to your credit card”. I requested nothing. The Post imposed auto-renewal, which I cancelled the next day. My sub now ends on August 26.

Twelve months ago, the Post made an amazing email offer, good for just 24 hours: “Get a Full Year of Unlimited Digital Access FOR AS LOW AS JUST $19!” Wow, what a deal. We splurged and went digital on any device for another ten bucks. Washington Post is worth $29 a year—and it’s a good value for $149, too. But all the paywall news sites want that kind of cash or more from me. I’m willing to pay for good journalism, but my budget can’t accommodate them all. 

That’s the paywall problem. Too many want too much, each. What’s needed is a single price for all of them. I would love the opportunity to read and to pay for the Post, the Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others. In aggregate, they demand too much.

I only pay big bucks for one subscription—the Economist, which is exorbitant at $129 per year. I also subscribe to Nature, a favorite, but because there is a $35/year sub specifically for iPad. The regular $199 print and digital offer exceeds my budget. I have a perennial 99-cent deal with the New York Times that can’t last. Every there months, I call to cancel and some rep offers an amazing deal to continue online and/or device; I’ve subscribed in print and/or digital since 2001. Just this week, I re-subscribed to National Geographic, as announced here, being so impressed by the responsible and informative reporting about lion hunting in Africa; $19 for print and digital, on my iPad Air 2.

Rolling Stone is $20 a year on my tablet, and I would prefer print and digital but the magazine doesn’t offer subscription that way. Vanity Fair, which also is $20 print that includes digital, delivers some great stories. My New Yorker subscription is up, and $70 renewal isn’t in the budget. Mother Jones will just have to do, at 12 bucks a year, as the only other sub.

With so much news being given away for free, news organizations that pay real journalists to report and write shouldn’t be so tight-ass about paywalls. It’s better to collect something, and build audience, than tacitly encourage readers to go to aggregators like Huffington Post or apps like Flipboard. One service, with a single fee for all combined, supported by the news outlets, is the only sensible—and affordable—paywall.

Photo Credit: Matias Romero