The Los Angeles Times reports that The Los Angeles Times will be adopting a paywall (they prefer the term “membership program”) starting March 5th, joining the ranks of other large newspapers hoping to replace plummeting subscription revenues. Readers, naturally, are incensed, though the change was inevitable for such a large newspaper.
Although the move to a paid or at least somehow powerfully monetized online model is going to be critical for the L.A. Times and other major print establishments, it appears that everyone in the industry is still in the “flailing” stage, and hoping that a model rejected and circumvented by readers will somehow work for them as it has (in a way) worked for others.
Because the fact is that, in fact, paywalls can work, and do. But something like the New York Times’ paywall has worked in strange ways and also because of a huge emphasis on publishing online via apps and mobile. Is the L.A. times giving an opportunity to readers to pay to get content in a new and better way, or is it just installing a ticket booth?
Their model is very similar to the New York Times: 99 cents for the first four weeks, then $3.99 per week, or, bizarrely, $1.99 per week if you want the the Sunday paper in addition to your digital copy. The reasoning for this is that the Sunday paper is chock full of advertisements, so much so that the L.A. Times will essentially pay you $2/week to receive it.
So the model isn’t new, and it’s not unreasonable. Many will choose to go around the paywall (mobile and tablet browsers will automatically skip it, it seems) but many, as others have shown, will pay rather than go through the rigamarole of adding referrers to their URL or installing a browser extension to do it for them.
The article announcing this change is a treat to read. It is written as though it is a normal news story and not an internally produced announcement, and has the air of people trying unsuccessfully to convince themselves that this is going to turn out great. It may end up fine in the end, but the tone of the article is unrelentingly self-deceiving to a degree even consumer electronics press releases fail to reach.