Then the internet happened and everybody's expectation's changed. Suddenly information was available for free, everywhere, all of the time. Individuals would publish content just for themselves at no charge. We had armchair journalists and information hobbyists coming out of our ears. We had bloggers. Maybe it still made sense to pay for a newspaper subscription if you were old and stuff, but to pay for an article? On the internet? Preposterous!
Never mind that the content would be identical to the print copies of the paper. Never mind that quality news organizations would still need to pay their writers for quality work. This was the age of fluid news, and we wanted it all for free--from the New York Times, from the Wall Street Journal, from wherever.
Why so demanding all of a sudden? Was it because we already paid enough for our devices--our shiny new laptops, our tablets and our smartphones? Was it because we were already shelling out for 3G and Wi-Fi, for the right to browse the internet in all its freely flowing glory? None of those dollars went to the news, of course, but suddenly we felt entitled. And suddenly, the top-tier news felt compelled to charge.
Both the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have had paywalls guarding their highest quality articles. Now, the New York Times is putting one up too. Despite the savings from no longer needing to buy so much paper, most news corporations are seeing losses due to a lack of paying customers. Ad revenue only brings in so much, especially compared to the profits garnered from print ads. And so the best in news--who investigate from all over the world, who pay their contributors nicely--have to start charging at the door.
I'm sure the New York Times's decision wasn't without at least some outcry. People would click a link to some juicy-sounding op-ed only to be prompted for a subscriber password. "Ridiculous!" they probably said. "I can read overstuffed opinions for free all over the net. I'm taking my lack of money elsewhere." But then there are those who shrugged, said, "okay," and paid up. 281,000 people, to be exact, in just three months. That's not a bad figure. The Times has even seen a slight increase in revenue, a recovery from the dip.
And honestly, why we expect never to pay for content anywhere on the internet is a little baffling. Your parents paid for the right to read the paper every day. Free information is great and will continue to flourish, but if you're going to kick it new-old-school and emulate those iPad commercials by scanning articles on global politics while relaxing with your tablet, you'd better expect to pay your share.