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A paywall is a method of restricting access to content, especially news, via a purchase or a paid subscription. Paywall_sentence_0

Beginning in the mid-2010s, newspapers started implementing paywalls on their websites as a way to increase revenue after years of decline in paid print readership and advertising revenue, partly due to the use of ad blockers. Paywall_sentence_1

In academics, research papers are often subject to a paywall and are available via academic libraries that subscribe. Paywall_sentence_2

Paywalls have also been used as a way of increasing the number of print subscribers; for example, some newspapers offer access to online content plus delivery of a Sunday print edition at a lower price than online access alone. Paywall_sentence_3

Newspaper websites such as that of The Boston Globe and The New York Times use this tactic because it increases both their online revenue and their print circulation (which in turn provides more ad revenue). Paywall_sentence_4

History Paywall_section_0

In 1996, The Wall Street Journal set up and has continued to maintain a "hard" paywall. Paywall_sentence_5

It continued to be widely read, acquiring over one million users by mid-2007, and 15 million visitors in March 2008. Paywall_sentence_6

In 2010, following in the footsteps of The Wall Street Journal, The Times (London) implemented a "hard" paywall; a decision which was controversial because, unlike The Wall Street Journal, The Times is a general news site, and it was said that rather than paying, users would seek the information without charge elsewhere. Paywall_sentence_7

The paywall was deemed in practice to be neither a success nor a failure, having recruited 105,000 paying visitors. Paywall_sentence_8

In contrast The Guardian resisted the use of a paywall, citing "a belief in an open Internet" and "care in the community" as its reasoning – an explanation found in its welcome article to online news readers who, blocked from The Times site following the implementation of their paywall, came to The Guardian for online news. Paywall_sentence_9

The Guardian since experimented with other revenue-increasing ventures such as open API. Paywall_sentence_10

Other papers, prominently The New York Times, have oscillated between the implementation and removal of various paywalls. Paywall_sentence_11

Because online news remains a relatively new medium, it has been suggested that experimentation is key to maintaining revenue while keeping online news consumers satisfied. Paywall_sentence_12

Some implementations of paywalls proved unsuccessful, and have been removed. Paywall_sentence_13

Experts who are skeptical of the paywall model include Arianna Huffington, who declared "the paywall is history" in a 2009 article in The Guardian. Paywall_sentence_14

In 2010, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales reportedly called The Times's paywall "a foolish experiment." Paywall_sentence_15

One major concern was that, with content so widely available, potential subscribers would turn to free sources for their news. Paywall_sentence_16

The adverse effects of earlier implementations included decline in traffic and poor search engine optimization. Paywall_sentence_17

Paywalls have become controversial, with partisans arguing over the effectiveness of paywalls in generating revenue and their effect on media in general. Paywall_sentence_18

Critics of paywalls include many businesspeople, academics such as media professor Jay Rosen, and journalists such as Howard Owens and media analyst Matthew Ingram of GigaOm. Paywall_sentence_19

Those who see potential in paywalls include investor Warren Buffett, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Paywall_sentence_20

Some have changed their opinions of paywalls. Paywall_sentence_21

Felix Salmon of Reuters was initially an outspoken skeptic of paywalls, but later expressed the opinion that they could be effective. Paywall_sentence_22

A NYU media theorist, Clay Shirky, was initially a skeptic of paywalls, but in May 2012 wrote, "[Newspapers] should turn to their most loyal readers for income, via a digital subscription service of the sort the [New York Times] has implemented." Paywall_sentence_23

Paywalls are rapidly changing journalism, with an impact on its practice and business model, and on freedom of information on the Internet, that is yet unclear. Paywall_sentence_24

Types Paywall_section_1

Three high level models of paywall have emerged: hard paywalls that allow no free content and prompt the user straight away to pay in order to read, listen or watch the content, soft paywalls that allow some free content, such as an abstract or summary, and metered paywalls that allow a set number of free articles that a reader can access over a specific period of time, allowing more flexibility in what users can view without subscribing. Paywall_sentence_25

"Hard" paywalls Paywall_section_2

The "hard" paywall, as used by The Times, requires paid subscription before any of their online content can be accessed. Paywall_sentence_26

A paywall of this design is considered the riskiest option for the content provider. Paywall_sentence_27

It is estimated that a website will lose 90% of its online audience and ad revenue only to gain it back through its ability to produce online content appealing enough to attract subscribers. Paywall_sentence_28

News sites with "hard" paywalls can succeed if they: Paywall_sentence_29


  • Provide added value to their contentPaywall_item_0_0
  • Target a niche audiencePaywall_item_0_1
  • Already dominate their own marketPaywall_item_0_2

Many experts denounce the "hard" paywall because of its inflexibility, believing it acts as a major deterrent for users. Paywall_sentence_30

Financial blogger Felix Salmon wrote that when one encounters a "paywall and can’t get past it, you simply go away and feel disappointed in your experience." Paywall_sentence_31

Jimmy Wales, founder of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, argued that the use of a "hard" paywall diminishes a site's influence. Paywall_sentence_32

Wales stated that, by implementing a "hard" paywall, The Times "made itself irrelevant." Paywall_sentence_33

Though the Times had potentially increased its revenue, it decreased its traffic by 60%. Paywall_sentence_34

"Soft" paywalls Paywall_section_3

The "soft" paywall is best embodied by the metered model. Paywall_sentence_35

The metered paywall allows users to view a specific number of articles before requiring paid subscription. Paywall_sentence_36

In contrast to sites allowing access to select content outside the paywall, the metered paywall allows access to any article as long as the user has not surpassed the set limit. Paywall_sentence_37

The Financial Times allows users to access 10 articles before becoming paid subscribers. Paywall_sentence_38

The New York Times controversially implemented a metered paywall in March 2011 which let users view 20 free articles a month before paid subscription. Paywall_sentence_39

In April 2012 New York Times reduced the number of free articles per month to 10. Paywall_sentence_40

Their metered paywall has been defined as not only soft, but "porous," because it also allows access to any link posted on a social media site, and up to 25 free articles a day if accessed through a search engine. Paywall_sentence_41

The model is designed to allow the paper to "retain traffic from light users", which in turn allows the paper to keep their number of visitors high, while receiving circulation revenue from the site's heavy users. Paywall_sentence_42

Using this model The New York Times garnered 224,000 subscribers in the first three months. Paywall_sentence_43

While many proclaimed The New York Times' paywall a success after it reported a profit in the third quarter of 2011, the profit increase is said to be "ephemeral" and "largely based on a combination of cutbacks and the sale of assets." Paywall_sentence_44

Though the success of a metered paywall would create revenue for the newspaper and increased freedom for the public, the profitability of the metered model has yet to be sufficiently proven. Paywall_sentence_45

Combination Paywall_section_4

A "softer" paywall strategy includes allowing free access to select content, while keeping premium content behind a paywall. Paywall_sentence_46

Such a strategy has been said to lead to "the creation of two categories: cheap fodder available for free (often created by junior staffers), and more 'noble' content." Paywall_sentence_47

This type of separation brings into question the egalitarianism of the online news medium. Paywall_sentence_48

According to political and media theorist Robert A Hackett, "the commercial press of the 1800s, the modern world’s first mass medium, was born with a profound democratic promise: to present information without fear or favour, to make it accessible to everyone, and to foster public rationality based on equal access to relevant facts. Paywall_sentence_49

". Paywall_sentence_50

The Boston Globe implemented a version of this strategy in September 2011 by launching a second website,, to solely offer content from the paper behind a hard paywall, aside from most sports content, which was kept open to compete against other local sports websites. Paywall_sentence_51 operates alongside a second, pre-existing news website, which now only contains a limited amount of content from the subscription website on a delay, but carries a larger focus on community-oriented news. Paywall_sentence_52

The Boston Globe editor Martin Baron described them as "two different sites for two different kinds of reader – some understand [that] journalism needs to be funded and paid for. Paywall_sentence_53

Other people just won't pay. Paywall_sentence_54

We have a site for them." Paywall_sentence_55

By March 2014 the site had over 60,000 digital subscribers; at that time, the Globe announced that it would replace the hard paywall with a metered system allowing users to read 10 articles without charge in any 30-day period. Paywall_sentence_56

The Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory believed that an ability to sample the site's premium content would encourage more people to subscribe to the service. Paywall_sentence_57

At the same time, McGrory also announced plans to give a more distinct editorial focus, with a "sharper voice that better captures the sensibilities of Boston", while migrating other content by Globe writers, such as blogs from to the paper's website, but keeping them freely available. Paywall_sentence_58

Reception Paywall_section_5

Industry Paywall_section_6

Professional reception to the implementation of paywalls has been mixed. Paywall_sentence_59

Most discussion of paywalls centers on their success or failure as business ventures, and overlooks their ethical implications for maintaining an informed public. Paywall_sentence_60

In the paywall debate there are those who see the implementation of a paywall as a "sandbag strategy" – a strategy which may help increase revenue in the short term, but not a strategy that will foster future growth for the newspaper industry. Paywall_sentence_61

For the "hard" paywall specifically, however, there seems to be an industry consensus that the negative effects (loss of readership) outweigh the potential revenue, unless the newspaper targets a niche audience. Paywall_sentence_62

There are also those who remain optimistic about the use of paywalls to help revitalize floundering newspaper revenues. Paywall_sentence_63

Those who believe implementing paywalls will succeed, however, continually buffer their opinion with contingencies. Paywall_sentence_64

Bill Mitchell states that for a paywall to bring new revenue and not deter current readers, newspapers must: "invest in flexible systems, exploit their journalists' expertise in niche areas, and, crucially, offer readers their money's worth in terms of new value." Paywall_sentence_65

The State of the News Media's 2011 annual report on American journalism makes the sweeping claim that: "[t]o survive financially, the consensus on the business side of news operations is that news sites not only need to make their advertising smarter, but they also need to find some way to charge for content and to invent new revenue streams other than display advertising and subscriptions." Paywall_sentence_66

Even those who do not believe in the general success of paywalls recognize that, for a profitable future, newspapers must start generating more attractive content with added value, or investigate new sources of earning revenue. Paywall_sentence_67

Proponents of the paywall believe that it may be crucial for smaller publications to stay afloat. Paywall_sentence_68

They argue that since 90 percent of advertising revenues are concentrated in the top 50 publishers, smaller operations can't necessarily depend on the traditional ad-supported free content model the way that larger sites can. Paywall_sentence_69

Many paywall advocates also contend that people are more than willing to pay a small price for quality content. Paywall_sentence_70

In a March 2013 guest post for VentureBeat, Malcolm CasSelle of MediaPass stated his belief that monetization would become "something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: people [will] pay for content, and that money goes back into making the overall content even better." Paywall_sentence_71

In April 2013 the Newspaper Association of America released its industry revenue profile for 2012, which reported that circulation revenue grew by 5 percent for dailies, making it the first year of circulation growth in ten years. Paywall_sentence_72

Digital-only circulation revenue reportedly grew 275%; print and digital bundled circulation revenue grew 499%. Paywall_sentence_73

Along with the shift towards bundling print and online into combined access subscriptions, print-only circulation revenue declined 14%. Paywall_sentence_74

This news corroborates a growing belief that digital subscriptions will be the key to securing the long-term survival of newspapers. Paywall_sentence_75

In May 2019, research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford showed that despite the controversies surrounding paywalls, these were on the rise across Europe and the United States. Paywall_sentence_76

According to the study by Felix Simon and Lucas Graves, more than two-thirds of leading newspapers (69%) across the EU and US were operating some kind of online paywall as of 2019, a trend that has increased since 2017 according to the researchers, with the US seeing an increase from 60% to 76%. Paywall_sentence_77

Reader Paywall_section_7

General user response to the implementation of paywalls has been measured through a number of recent studies which analyze readers' online news-reading habits. Paywall_sentence_78

A study completed by the Canadian Media Research Consortium entitled "Canadian Consumers Unwilling to Pay for News Online", directly identifies the Canadian response to paywalls. Paywall_sentence_79

Surveying 1,700 Canadians, the study found that 92% of participants who read the news online would rather find a free alternative than pay for their preferred site (in comparison to 82% of Americans), while 81% stated that they would absolutely not pay for their preferred online news site. Paywall_sentence_80

Based on the poor reception of paid content by the participants, the study concludes with a statement similar to those of the media experts, stating, with the exception of prominent papers such as The Wall Street Journal and The Times, that given the "current public attitudes, most publishers had better start looking elsewhere for revenue solutions." Paywall_sentence_81

Ethical implications Paywall_section_8

Deterioration of the online public sphere Paywall_section_9

Hackett argues that a "forum on the internet [...] can function as a specialized or smaller-scale public sphere." Paywall_sentence_82

In the past, the internet has been an ideal location for the general public to gather and discuss relevant news issues – an activity made accessible first through free access to online news content, and subsequently the ability to comment on the content, creating a forum. Paywall_sentence_83

Erecting a paywall restricts the public's open communication with one another by restricting the ability to both read and share online news. Paywall_sentence_84

The obvious way in which a paywall restricts equal access to the online public sphere is through requiring payment, deterring those who do not want to pay, and barring those who cannot from joining the online discussion. Paywall_sentence_85

The restriction of equal access was taken to a new extreme when the UK's The Independent in October 2011 placed a paywall on foreign readers only. Paywall_sentence_86

Online news media have the proven ability to create global connection beyond the typical reach of a public sphere. Paywall_sentence_87

In Democratizing Global Media, Hackett and global communications theorist Yuezhi Zhao describe how a new "wave of media democratization arises in the era of the internet which has facilitated transnational civil society networks of and for democratic communication." Paywall_sentence_88

By placing a paywall on their international readers, The Independent hinders the growth and democratic quality of the public sphere created by the internet. Paywall_sentence_89

The use of paywalls has also received many complaints from online news readers regarding an online subscriptions' inability to be shared like a traditional printed paper. Paywall_sentence_90

While a printed paper can be shared among friends and family, the ethics behind sharing an online subscription are less clear because there is no physical object involved. Paywall_sentence_91

The New York Times' "ethicist" columnist, Ariel Kaminer, addressing the question of sharing online subscription, states that "sharing with your spouse or young child is one thing; sharing with friends or family who live elsewhere is another." Paywall_sentence_92

The reader comments following Kaminer's response focus on the dichotomy between paying for a printed paper and paying for an online subscription. Paywall_sentence_93

A printed paper's ease of access meant that more individuals could read a single copy, and that everyone who read the paper had the ability to send a letter to the editor without the hassle of registering or paying for the subscription. Paywall_sentence_94

As such, the use of a paywall closes off the communication in both the personal realm and online. Paywall_sentence_95

This opinion is not just held by online news readers, but also by opinion writers. Paywall_sentence_96

Jimmy Wales comments that he "would rather write [an opinion piece] where it is going to be read", declaring that "putting opinion pieces behind paywalls [makes] no sense." Paywall_sentence_97

Without easy access to both read and share insights and opinions, the online news platform loses an essential characteristic of democratic exchange. Paywall_sentence_98

Paying to stay informed Paywall_section_10

The use of a paywall to bar individuals from accessing news content online without payment, brings up numerous ethical questions. Paywall_sentence_99

According to Hackett, media are already "failing to furnish citizens with ready access to relevant civic information." Paywall_sentence_100

The implementation of paywalls on previously free news content heightens this failure through intentional withholding. Paywall_sentence_101

Hackett cites "general cultural and economic mechanisms, such as the commodification of information and the dependence of commercial media on advertising revenue" as two of the greatest influences on media performance. Paywall_sentence_102

According to Hackett, these cultural and economic mechanisms "generate violations of the democratic norm of equality." Paywall_sentence_103

Implementation of a paywall addresses and intimately ties the two mechanisms cited by Hackett, as the paywall commodifies news content to bring in revenue from both readers and from increased circulation of printed paper's ads. Paywall_sentence_104

The result of these mechanisms, as stated by Hackett, is an impediment to "equal access to relevant [news] facts." Paywall_sentence_105

The commodification of information–making news into a product that must be purchased–restricts the egalitarian founding principle of the newspaper. Paywall_sentence_106

Editor's Weblog reporter Katherine Travers, addressing this issue in a post discussing the future of The Washington Post, asks, "is digital subscription as permissible as charging a couple of dollars now and then for a paper copy?" Paywall_sentence_107

While subscription fees have long been attached to print newspapers, all other forms of news have traditionally been free. Paywall_sentence_108

The UK's Daily Mail argues that print revenue is unique because "people pay for the convenience of print in recognition of the special cost of production and delivery of a tangible product and because they purchase it whole." Paywall_sentence_109

Online news, in comparison has existed as a medium of free dissemination. Paywall_sentence_110

Poynter digital media fellow Jeff Sonderman outlines the ethical tension created by a paywall. Paywall_sentence_111

Sonderman explains that "[t]he underlying tension is that newspapers act simultaneously as businesses and as servants of the public’s interest. Paywall_sentence_112

As for-profit enterprises, they have the right (the duty, even) to make money for shareholders or private owners. Paywall_sentence_113

But most also claim to have a social compact, in which they safeguard the entire public interest and help their entire community shape and understand its shared values." Paywall_sentence_114

By implementing a paywall before experimenting with other revenue-increasing initiatives, a newspaper arguably puts profit before the public. Paywall_sentence_115

Counter strategies Paywall_section_11

While there has been little coverage and discussion of the ethical implications of the paywall regarding newspapers' obligation to maintain a generally informed public, there are two prominent instances where companies have addressed the restriction of online news coverage. Paywall_sentence_116

First is the removal of paywalls in the face of breaking news (news covering national or local emergencies). Paywall_sentence_117

Second is Google's "" application, which news providers can implement if they wish to make news stories of interest accessible to readers regardless of a paywall. Paywall_sentence_118

Disabling the paywall Paywall_section_12

Some newspapers have removed their paywall from blocking content covering emergencies. Paywall_sentence_119

When Hurricane Irene hit the United States' east coast in late August 2011, The New York Times declared that all storm related coverage, accessed both online and through mobile devices, would be free to readers. Paywall_sentence_120

The New York Times‌' assistant managing editor, Jeff Roberts, discusses the paper's decision, stating: "[w]e are aware of our obligations to our audience and to the public at large when there is a big story that directly impacts such a large portion of people." Paywall_sentence_121

In his article discussing the removal of paywalls, Soderman commends The New York Times' action, stating that, while a publisher "commits to a paywall as the best business strategy for his news company, there may be some stories or subjects which carry such importance and urgency that it is irresponsible to withhold them from nonsubscribers." Paywall_sentence_122

New revenue initiatives Paywall_section_13

Given the overwhelming opinion that, regardless of paywall success, new revenue sources must be sought out for newspapers' financial success, it is important to highlight new business initiatives. Paywall_sentence_123

According to Poynter media expert Bill Mitchell, in order for a paywall to generate sustainable revenue, newspapers must create "new value"—higher quality, innovation, etc.—in their online content that merits payment which previously free content did not. Paywall_sentence_124

In addition to erecting paywalls, newspapers have been increasingly exploiting tablet and mobile news products, the profitability of which remains inconclusive. Paywall_sentence_125

Some newspapers have also embraced targeting niche audiences, such as the Daily Mail's Mail Online in the UK. Paywall_sentence_126

Another strategy, pioneered by The New York Times, involves creating new revenue by packaging old content in e-books and special feature offerings, to create an appealing product for readers. Paywall_sentence_127

The draw of these packages is not just the topic but the authors and the breadth of coverage. Paywall_sentence_128

According to reporter Mathew Ingram, newspapers can benefit from these special offerings in two ways, first by taking advantage of old content when new interest arises, such as an anniversary or an important event, and second, through the creation of packages of general interest. Paywall_sentence_129

The New York Times, for example, has created packages, mainly ebooks, on baseball, golf and the digital revolution. Paywall_sentence_130

Alternative revenue initiative: API Paywall_section_14

An open API (application programming interface) makes the online news site "a platform for data and information that [the newspaper company] can generate value from in other ways." Paywall_sentence_131

Opening their API makes a newspaper's data available to outside sources, allowing developers and other services to make use of a paper's content for a fee. Paywall_sentence_132

The Guardian, in keeping with its "belief in an open internet", has been experimenting with the use of API. Paywall_sentence_133

The Guardian has created an "open platform" which works on a three level system: Paywall_sentence_134


  1. Base/Free – The Guardian's content is free to anyone for personal and non-commercial usesPaywall_item_1_3
  2. Commercial – Commercial licenses are available for developers to use the API content if they agree to keep the associated advertisingPaywall_item_1_4
  3. "Bespoke" Arrangement – Developers can partner with the newspaper, using specific data to create a service or an app, the revenue from which will be sharedPaywall_item_1_5

While an open API is regarded as a gamble just like a paywall, journalist Matthew Ingram ethically notes that the use of an open API aims at "profiting from the open exchange of information and other aspects of an online-media world, while the [paywall] is an attempt to create the kind of artificial information scarcity that newspapers used to enjoy." Paywall_sentence_135

An open API keeps news content free to the public while the newspaper makes a profit from the quality and usefulness of its data to other businesses. Paywall_sentence_136

The open API strategy can be commended because it takes the pressure off of the news room to continually investigate and explore new means of revenue. Paywall_sentence_137

Instead, the open API strategy relies on the interest and ideas of those outside the newsroom, to whom the site's content and data are attractive. Paywall_sentence_138

Bypassing paywalls Paywall_section_15

Due to implementation details involving web technologies, most paywalls that do not simply require the user to pay to view articles at all can be defeated. Paywall_sentence_139

Some online paywalls can be bypassed using the browser's "Private Browsing Mode". Paywall_sentence_140

Since many paywalls require JavaScript in order to function, the paywall itself might cease to do anything if the user disables scripting in their web browser. Paywall_sentence_141

For example, through the NoScript extension. Paywall_sentence_142

As certain paywalls enforce the metering by setting a browser cookie, the user might simply have to clear cookies for that site, remove the site's permission to set them, or set their web browser to "session cookies only", which overrides the cookies expiration date. Paywall_sentence_143

Some paywalls rely on obstructing the content, but not removing it. Paywall_sentence_144

Therefore, clicking the web browser's "Reader Mode" may allow the content to be formatted in such a way that it is readable. Paywall_sentence_145

In November 2018, Mozilla removed an extension called Bypass Paywalls from the Firefox add-on store, but users can still install it from outside the store. Paywall_sentence_146

A version for Google Chrome and Chromium-based web browsers also exists. Paywall_sentence_147

Abandoned paywall initiatives Paywall_section_16


  • The New York Times — TimesSelect: The original online-subscription program, TimesSelect, was implemented in 2005 in an effort to create a new revenue stream. TimesSelect charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the newspaper's archives. In 2007, paid subscriptions were earning $10 million, but growth projections were low compared to the growth of online advertising. In 2007, The New York Times dropped the paywall to its post-1980 archive. Pre-1980 articles in PDF are still behind the paywall, but an abstract of most articles is available for free.Paywall_item_2_6


  • The Atlantic: Originally online content was available only to print subscribers. This changed in 2008 under the supervision of James Bennet, editor-in-chief, in an effort to rebrand the magazine into a multi-platform business. The Atlantic reintroduced a soft paywall on 5 September 2019 which allows readers to view five free articles each month, requiring a subscription to view articles after that.Paywall_item_3_7


  • Johnston Press: In November 2009, the UK regional publisher of over 300 titles erected paywalls on six local newspapers' websites, including Carrick Gazette and the Whitby Gazette. The model was dropped in March 2010; paid subscriber growth during the 4-month period was reportedly in the low double-digits.Paywall_item_4_8


  • Ogden Newspapers: Throughout 2014, Ogden Newspapers' daily newspapers were placed behind a paywall. The system displayed teaser headlines and the first paragraph of the story. Paid subscribers had access to an e-edition of the newspapers as well as access to the publications via smart phone and tablet apps. Ogden's papers began removing the paywall in November 2016, in conjunction with launching redesigned, mobile and tablet friendly websites.Paywall_item_5_9

See also Paywall_section_17

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