And another one bites the dust! The countdown is on for one of Canada’s major dailies to take their paywall down. On April 1, the Toronto Star website will once again be free.
I am not at all surprised by this. I used to visit the Star’s website regularly, but as soon as I heard about the paywall, I changed my morning news bookmark to the free (and owned by the same parent company) Metro News and never looked back. This, I think, is the fatal flaw of the paywall model—they never factored in that even if the content really was worth paying for, you’d never know it because you simply stopped coming.
There is some online content that I do think is worth paying for. Local news isn’t that, for me. I think that in today’s era of social media, it simply does not operate the same way. Even mainstream reporting of a local story uses social media now—the Star themselves post twitter feeds and reader photos. Nobody is going to not know about something just because the Star chose to print it or did not.
A documentary I saw on Netflix about the Paparazzi industry underscores this point even more. It was about a campaign by a few powerful celebrities aimed at protecting their children from unwanted intrusion by the press. One of the reasons it is gaining clout is that the news agencies have realized their position is more precarious than it used to be. If Beyonce wants to share a photograph of her child, she does not need to rely on the press to do it for her. She can share the photograph herself.
I do agree that the business models need tone adjusted if the media is going to remain profitable, and I don’t have an easy solution for how they can do it. But I don’t think paywalls are the way, and I am glad to see this one coming down.