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Salon.com Editor Looks Back At Paywalls 246

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot dept.
Techdirt pointed out an interesting retrospective by Scott Rosenberg, former managing editor of Salon.com, about their experiments with paywalls and how repercussions can last a lot longer than some might expect. "More important, by this point the public was, understandably, thoroughly confused about how to get to read Salon content. It took many years for our traffic to begin to grow again. Paywalls are psychological as much as navigational, and it's a lot easier to put them up than to take them down. Once web users get it in their head that your site is 'closed' to them, if you ever change your mind and want them to come back, it's extremely difficult to get that word out."
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Salon.com Editor Looks Back At Paywalls

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  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KefabiMe (730997) <garth@jhonor.STRAWcom minus berry> on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:35PM (#30328456) Journal
    You don't have to pay to go to Salon? News to me. I haven't visited that site for at least a couple of years.
    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cashman73 (855518) on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:39PM (#30328530) Journal
      I think Salon's business strategy is like this:
      1. Put content on web.
      2. Put content behind paywall.
      3. Remove paywall and go with advertising model.
      4. Post article to Slashdot about doing this, hoping that some sympathy by a bunch of nerds will get them some increased traffic.
      5. ????
      6. Profit!
      • Re:What? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jc42 (318812) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:53PM (#30330330) Homepage Journal

        Funny thing is that a couple of years ago, a friend sent me a link to a couple of their political comic pages, and I've been following a few of them since then, checking them once or twice a week to see if there's anything new. But it never occurred to me to try salon's news pages, because I thought they would just block me. Guess I didn't get the message that this had changed. Actually, I'm not sure I'd bother even now, because I've mostly been following links via google news, and I don't recall ever noticing a salon.com link there. Maybe I'm just not paying attention, or maybe just have a low page rank in google's database so their articles don't get listed. Or maybe salon doesn't publish articles about things that attract my attention.

        There are so many interesting news sources now that's it's hard to feel sorry (or at all) for a site that intentionally drives away their readers. (OTOH, if they're being blocked by ISPs or government filters, that tends to make them interesting and worth searching for. Sorta like how if you forbid a kid to look at something, it becomes fascinating. ;-)

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by V50 (248015) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:00PM (#30328796) Journal

      Yep. Last I remember of Salon.com was sometime in 2000 or so, they had some decent stuff. Then the paywall went up ages ago, and I forgot they existed. Except for a few times throughout the decade where Google led me to an article of theirs, only to end up being blocked of by the paywall.

      Half of me thinks this is just them screaming "LOOK WE DON'T HAVE A PAYWALL ANYMORE". That is, assuming they actually don't.

      • He's probably right in assuming that the potential Salon readership overlaps with the Guardian's american readership.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DoninIN (115418)
        M3 2

        I think it's hilarious how many /. readers have already chimed with the Salon isn't behind a paywall? I haven't read anything on there in years, I just forgot about it when they put up the annoying paywall. I might be willing to pay to get quality content, but I'm just going to be annoyed if you post 1/3 of a story, and then cut me off and ask for money. Which is what I remember post paywall salon to be like, so I stopped going there, ever.

    • I don't think I've ever visited the site, but I remember reading about them becoming payer-only on El Reg a few years ago. Since then I've not bothered clicking on links to Salon because I didn't want to go to a site and then be told I couldn't access the content. I don't know how long they've been ad supported for, but he's right about one thing: the paywall experiment drove at least one potential reader away.
    • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:32PM (#30329226) Homepage Journal

      That was the biggest point in TFA -- it's easy to put a paywall up, it's hard to get readers back if you then take it down.

    • Shut Up !!! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Weezul (52464)

      Shut the fuck up! Murdock is about to institute pay walls! We want him gone! Please please shut up!

  • by Bieeanda (961632) on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:36PM (#30328464)
    I wouldn't know, because after dealing with the fucking thing several times I just gave up on the goddamn site. Seriously-- when they started gating their bloody comics section, and the second half of already pretty poor articles vanished behind 'day passes' and interstitial video ads, my interest in dealing with them as a site vanished.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You!
      I wanna take you to a pay wall,
      I wanna take you to a pay wall,
      I wanna take you to a pay wall, pay wall, pay wall.

      I've got something to put in you,
      I've got something to put in you,
      I've got something to put in you,
      At the pay wall, pay wall, pay wall.
      Wow!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      The link for the daypass cookie was easily found for anyone who cared to look
      http://www.google.com/search?q=salon+cookie756 [google.com]

      • by Toonol (1057698) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:41PM (#30329334)
        The point is that the overwhelming majority of people don't care enough to look. They just leave, and never come back. Unless Salon is streaming lesbians, nobody's going to go even minimal effort to get around a paywall.
        • Salon is streaming lesbians

          Wait, what?!

          I’ll check as soon as I get off work...

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by jc42 (318812)

            Salon is streaming lesbians

            Wait, what?! I'll check as soon as I get off work...

            Nah; don't bother; they're not naked. They're covered with this stuff that's sorta like a RL version of a paywall; they call it "clothes" or something like that.

    • I wouldn't know, because after dealing with the fucking thing several times I just gave up on the goddamn site.

      I too give up surfing the net while fucking.

  • salon.com? (Score:5, Funny)

    by bl8n8r (649187) on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:37PM (#30328490)
    Is that a hairstylist blog or something?
  • Sshhh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dswensen (252552) on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:37PM (#30328494) Homepage

    Keep it to yourself, will you? If Rupert Murdoch gets wind of this, he might change his mind about cordoning Fox News off from the rest of the Internet!

    Actually, probably not.

  • The money's going to run out, paywalls won't save you. I make the same argument about energy risk management: unless you spend the resources now to transition, by the time you need an alternate source, you can't exploit it. Someone else will take that opportunity for you.

    • The money's going to run out, paywalls won't save you.

      But slashdot still has one [slashdot.org].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rjstanford (69735)

      Actually, if you ever read TFA, you'd see that the paywall - while it made their future success a lot more challenging - was the only thing that did save them when the money ran out. It was basically put up a paywall and live, hurting, or don't and die out due to lack of revenue (which makes future developments moot). They did what they thought they had to do to survive, and survived, giving them the chance to painfully recover once they were able to drop the paywall.

  • Everyone here is surprised Salon had dropped the pay wall and is reacting to that. It seems the solution is to have a meta discussion about the effects of dropping your pay wall as a means to spread knowledge that it was dropped in the first place.
  • I didn't even know.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:56PM (#30328736) Homepage Journal

    ..that Salon had come back. When I see 'em in the status bar, I don't bother clicking because I assume the article isn't really there.

    And that's kind of interesting. Their name got known. That's half the battle. Too bad they got known in a bad way.

    BTW, you know who actually got me to pay? Phoronix.

    • by schon (31600)

      Their name got known. That's half the battle. Too bad they got known in a bad way.

      So much for the old adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity", huh? :)

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Friday December 04, 2009 @04:57PM (#30328742) Journal

    If I have to read another “funny” comment saying “what! salon.com dropped their paywall?”, I think I’m going to scream.

  • If www.ExpertSexChange.com dropped their paywall, how long would it take for anyone to start using that?

    (I’d never even heard of salon.com, but expertsexchange is something more along the lines of what a geek would understand, I think.)

    • Just refer to their Google cache, as all of the content is wide open for reading, although 9 times out of 10 a problem you're googling for just has threads similar to yours...but without a solution...
    • by Ash Vince (602485)

      Incidentally, you can sign up for experts exchange and get access to the answers without paying. You just need to sign up as an expert and post some useful answers that help other people regularly.

      The paywall only applies to people who only want answers without ever giving any back. I know they make you dig a little on the site to find out how to sign up for free, but real experts generally are quite good at digging out answers so should not find this too hard.

    • I use a custom google search. Experts-exchange.com is one of the domains I have permanently filtered out of any of my search results.

      A significant amount of their content is lifted directly from Microsoft's KB articles, technet, etc. Other answers can usually be found elsewhere on reputable sites.
      • Meh. If you’re coming from Google, the answers are way down at the bottom of the page, so I usually just hit it anyhow to see if there’s anything worthwhile.

  • by cowtamer (311087) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:08PM (#30328882) Journal

    As much as I don't like it as a user, I believe the "paywall" approach would work if there was one dominant way to pay for a "pass" (or a micropayment account) that would unlock millions of sites.

    I have no interest in paying for a Salon (or a Slashdot) subscription, but I could see myself paying $7/month to "Google Paywall" if it unlocked millions of sites for me.

    Of course, it is IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to compete with the psychology of "free", and I would hate the privacy implications of having to identify myself to every site I visit, even if it were trivially cheap...

    • by tepples (727027)

      I believe the "paywall" approach would work if there was one dominant way to pay for a "pass" (or a micropayment account) that would unlock millions of sites.

      It sounds like paying for cable TV to unlock dozens of channels that you don't care about and two that you do. Yet in Slashdot articles about cable companies, so many users post comments complaining that they can't subscribe to channels a la carte.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ShaunC (203807)

      I believe the "paywall" approach would work if there was one dominant way to pay for a "pass" (or a micropayment account) that would unlock millions of sites.

      As with most technologies, the porn industry got this down to a science years ago.

  • They opened up? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Perp Atuitie (919967) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:09PM (#30328898)
    I used to go there all the time. Assumed there was still a paywall or equivalent. The psychological thing is interesting -- even if it's perfectly open now I'd have to overcome some kind of habitual negative association to start again. The other thing, of course, is that everybody that didn't want to pay found good-enough alternatives in the meantime and don't necessarily want to put another name on their dance card. Rosenberg has the psychology exactly right.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AkiraRoberts (1097025)
      Similar experience for me. Used to read them all the time. When they went pay, I stuck with it for a bit, using that kind of confusing advertising funded day pass thing. Then I just sort of stopped. Back around the election I started checking them out again, and was surprised to find them totally open. But, even with the openness, and even knowing that they actually have some fairly good articles, I'd gotten into a routine of only really checking a few key news-type sites. Salon wasn't in that routine, so I
  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:13PM (#30328954) Homepage
    The reason Murdoch doesn't do anything is because doing it on his own would hurt him. The Sun, Sky News and Fox news aren't aimed at rich people, like the WSJ. They're aimed at the lower class who aren't going to pay if they can help it. So the only way Murdoch will grow an balls to lock up his sites is if he can get everyone else to do it and hopefully that won't happen.
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:14PM (#30328958) Homepage

    What I don't understand is paywalls that seem to have been erected without any sane business model in mind. For instance, here [sciencedirect.com] is a physics paper that I needed to look up today. It describes a particle-physics experiment from 1979 that, as a side benefit, ended up producing one of the classic high-precision tests of special relativity. I teach at a community college, so we don't have scientific journals at the library. My wife teaches at a university, so she has electronic access to journals, but the access to this particular publisher's journal only goes back to 1995. So I find the article online, behind a paywall, and I'm all set to pay $10 for a copy, just to avoid the hassle of going to a university library and photocopying it. I click through on the link to buy a copy, and they want $31.50. That's just crazy. Since the price was insane, it motivated me to get in the car, drive 20 minutes to a university library, and find the article down in the basement stacks where they put old journals.

    To me, this seems like totally irrational behavior on the part of the publisher. For any product you want to sell, there has to be a price that optimizes your profit. Price it too high, and you don't get enough volume. Price it too low, and you get volume, but not enough of a profit margin. I simply can't believe that $31.50 is the sane, profit-optimizing price for a single academic paper from 1979 -- especially not when it's electronic, so the marginal cost of distribution per copy is essentially zero. My guess is that some of these traditional print publishers simply have their heads in the sand. They believe that the advent of digital music has decimated the music business, so the lesson they take home is that anything digital is like dog poop -- don't touch it, or something bad will happen to you and your business.

    • by comm2k (961394)
      How true!
      For some journals it is even cheaper to order the whole issue than to 'buy' one single paper electronically...
    • I'm not sure that it's in the best interest of the scientific community to lower rates on obsolete papers, and increase them on higher quality, cutting edge papers.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:36PM (#30329282)

      I simply can't believe that $31.50 is the sane, profit-optimizing price for a single academic paper from 1979 -- especially not when it's electronic, so the marginal cost of distribution per copy is essentially zero

      You think you've got troubles... try finding service manuals for A/V equipment. I'm not doing this professionally; I'm just trying to keep useful gear out of the landfill (and in my living room :)

      90% of the links are robot-generated spam pages. 10% of the links are pirated versions of the service manuals... behind paywalls, and the prices vary from $10 to $50 for the pirated copies. Most manufacturers are beginning to make the content available, but their prices aren't much better (yes, the legit prices are usually around $30ish) than those of the pirates.

      And then you've got middlemen like scribd -- which is sometimes where the service-manual hosting sites store "their" content. Great, here's a 100-page manual that explains everything I need to know to revive this dumpster-dived flat-screen! But it's not in PDF, it's in Flash. And the "print" button works just fine, but if your print spooler isn't done in 60 seconds, that's all you get. (Seriously -- a 100-page manual, 15 pages of which would print-to-PDF on a slow machine, and 80 of which would print-to-PDF on a faster machine. The only common ground was that there was a 60-second timeout [blogspot.com] in the Flash, which was so rifuckulous that I didn't believe it until I googled it and found that link. Scribd isn't even in the business of charging for content -- all their content is user-uploaded. The YouTube analogy would be that you can watch any video you want, as long as you consume fewer than 10 CPU-seconds of system time to render it. WTF?)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by plopez (54068)

      Here's a freaky one.

      My boss buys a reference book, 200+ USD at Amazon. We both work at a research arm of a Uni. and I would like to learn some of the background information. I am a newbie to the field so I take it home. The next day a cow-orker wants it. Ooops! So I go home that night and log in to the Uni. library to see if I can at least find it via inter-library loan. Since I am taking classes I have a student ID so no problem on that front.

      It seems the local Uni. library has a copy but it is checked out

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:56PM (#30329538)

      I teach at a community college, so we don't have scientific journals at the library. My wife teaches at a university, so she has electronic access to journals

      You miss the point. You're not the costumer. The universities are. By charging an outrageous per-article price, the publishers muscle universities into subscribing to entire catalogs.

      Of course, in our trying times, university libraries are dropping journal subscriptions left and right. Once this happens enough, the most prominent researches stop publishing with those journals because they know nobody will read their work if they do.

      It will be very interesting to see where the equilibrium settles with this.

    • by Tikkun (992269)

      To me, this seems like totally irrational behavior on the part of the publisher.

      Information is a commodity. Make it available to everyone and the information is very useful, but now has no value.

      Make it available at a high price to people that have an incentive to keep it to themselves and you have something much less useful, but far more valuable.

      This can work with some academic content (there are only so many places you can publish research for peer review, and they're all in on the game), but cannot work with news where a large amount of people are interested in reading, writi

    • by LihTox (754597) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:43PM (#30330194)

      a single academic paper from 1979 -- especially not when it's electronic, so the marginal cost of distribution per copy is essentially zero.

      This probably isn't true in this case: unless they're popular, single academic papers from 1979 are likely to have few readers, and you might be the only person to pay the cost of translating said paper over to an electronic format. That wouldn't cost $32 to do, of course, but it's not as close to zero as the cost of a popular song or software package. I think your suggested $10 would be much more reasonable. The real reason for charging is to get university libraries to pay for the entire archive, but surely evne a $5 or $10 price point for older articles would be enough of a nuisance to convince libraries to buy archive access.

      A suggestion if it hasn't occurred to you (if you'll pardon my gall in offering advice to a complete stranger): you might be able to get electronic copies of papers through ILL via your community college library. If not, you might try to get an affiliation with that university down the road: that may give you online access to those journals through their library. If that university isn't game, perhaps an alma mater would be willing to extend affilation to you. I did this while unemployed and while teaching at a community college, and it was very useful.

  • Try me (Score:5, Funny)

    by fulldecent (598482) on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:20PM (#30329064) Homepage

    let the paywalls go up.

    i'll be the one to write a firefox extension that double underlines all paywall sites. And we all know by now... you don't dare even mouseover double underlined text.

  • It's the problem paying for each news source separately. What people definitely not want to do is get all their news from one site, like they did in the days of newspapers. And $5/month subscriptions to 20 different sites are not going to be cost effective. Come up with a system where one pays a flat fee, has access to practically everything, worldwide, and the money is distributed in proportion to time spent on each site and people will not be averse to paying. In fact most ISPs would probably bundle the a

  • by digitalsushi (137809) <slashdot@digitalsushi.com> on Friday December 04, 2009 @05:32PM (#30329236) Journal

    Fast forward 10 years to the present. I would gladly pay 30 dollars a month if all the stuff I read online was written by a professional with classical training in english or journalism. This web2.0 junk means we're all crappy authors who, as I am right now doing, stream their consciousness into textarea boxes, never a second glance at the same sentence for proofediting; rushing to the submit button to beat my peers in the subtle effect that I will feel smarter than everyone who posted thereafter.

  • by jdmonin (124516) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:20PM (#30329828) Homepage

    My favorite weekly column, Ask the Pilot [salon.com] by Patrick Smith, is on Salon. I think a lot of us geeks would enjoy his anecdotes and perspective. I look forward to it each week, but I wouldn't have gone past a paywall for it.

  • Paywalls have holes (Score:3, Informative)

    by brundlefly (189430) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:34PM (#30330088)

    Many, many paywalls have huge holes in them. I read Salon.com for years without paying -- I just told them I was Googlebot. Works for tons of sites.

  • by PipingSnail (1112161) on Friday December 04, 2009 @07:48PM (#30330882)

    Paywalls are bad, so are Register Walls.

    What is a Register Wall? The kind of nonesense you get if you go to the New York Times website.

    I have no idea if they still require me to login to view their content, but they used to.
    The fact that I have no idea if they still require me to login shows just how entrenced the damage to your reputation is..
    I simply won't visit the New York Times website because I don't want YET ANOTHER PASSWORD to remember. Any site that wants me to register just to view content, I don't join.

    Apart from Amazon, any site that wants to create an account just to purchase, I pass. I recently tried to purchase "Getting Real" but Lulu.com wanted me to register to make a purchase.
    Why can't I just provide my name, address, credit card info, etc, then purchase? Why do I need to waste time creating an account, then have that information stored by them forever?
    They did not get the sale. Their loss. I can read Getting Real online for free.

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