Pay-nful Paywall Issues
BY EDDY ZHAO '25
You’ve just discovered the best source for your English essay, and you’re confident it will earn you an A. It’s even from a reputable source: The New York Times! As you scroll down to read your newfound information, a message interrupts you: For just $4 every four weeks, subscribe now! And just like that, your aspirations of perusing that fabulous source are crushed.
Pop-up messages requiring users to pay for accessing content are known as paywalls. Popularized in the last decade, they are an irritating new addition to newspapers and other sources, allowing them to make more money while delivering the same content found in a physical paper. Despite the ease of obtaining information for free online, businesses employ multiple strategies to convert the normal consumer into a paying subscriber. However, paywalls ultimately do more harm to society than good, generating a slew of problems that will degrade the quality of the news you have been reading.
As the world shifts to a digital environment, sources are resorting to paywalls to profit without income from advertising. Since many people now use ad blockers, which improve their quality of life at the advertisers’ expense, news organizations can't generate revenue from digital advertising. The solution? A paywall. Most businesses limit users to a certain number of articles each month, and once they are hooked, they force readers to pay to see more. This development is becoming increasingly popular among media giants; according to the Reuters Institute, more than 69 percent of major newspapers in the European Union and the U.S. now have online paywalls, a trend that has accelerated since 2017. Particularly in the U.S., the paywall's profitability has increased from 60 percent to 76 percent.
Although paywalls supply vital funding to news organizations, they cause major issues with the spread of news throughout society. For example, they decrease the amount of real news available on the web for free. According to Techdirt, “people who pay for news in the US are on average wealthier and more educated than those who don’t.” This move directly restricts information from getting to a large portion of the population. As a result of information restriction, the amount of exposure to fake news on the web is also increasing. After all, the goal of fake-news writers is to attract a large audience to their phony pieces, and limiting access to actual news only aids in their success. The American Press Institute maintains that most people start subscribing to news in order to gain expertise about a certain topic, and paywalls prevent people from receiving the information they need—they may even lead to people getting incorrect information. For students, who are developing a sense of self, it also leads to poorer grades, harmful health decisions, and other decision-making factors, according to Austin Community College. Fake news influences reputation and beliefs, which can polarize, causing more divisive political or social movements and protests.
The paywall is a socially damaging mechanism. While they allow news organizations to profit, they also limit the amount of real news available to individuals who cannot afford a subscription. This goes against journalism’s primary value, spreading accurate facts and information around the world. Newspapers, however, require a consistent source of funding in order to continue providing the high-quality journalism that so many people expect. A compromise can be found through alternatives: requiring adblockers to be disabled, content bundling, and pay-per-view articles allow users to access the material they need while also supporting news sources. Paywalls continue to envelop the world of journalism for the time being, but hopefully one day we will be able to obtain information and support our favorite news sources without spending a dime.