Why do some websites have a paywall

Paywalls on the Internet: Only through my payment barrier

More and more media are charging for their online news. An important principle of the Internet is lost as a result.

More and more news media are fencing the pieces of jewelry under their articles a photo: Samuel Zeller / Unsplash

Imagine a hurricane sweeps over Germany and someone wants to quickly find out something about the situation in their home region online. On the only relevant news site in his region, however, the searcher encounters a wall: "Take out a subscription now and read on" or "Your quota of articles for this month is exhausted". How important free access to the media can be can be seen in such public emergencies.

Some newspapers have reacted to this in the past and switched off payment barriers on their online presence: the Rheinische Post for example at the beginning of 2018 during the hurricane "Friederike". But even in less catastrophic cases, freely accessible news is desirable, for example when it comes to social issues such as right-wing populism or climate change. It goes without saying that this is no longer the case with all media.

In recent years, various forms of payment barriers have become an industry trend. More and more news media, according to the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers, already 205, fence in the pieces of jewelery under their articles and try to lure people into their own premium garden in this way. This is the only way to counter the harmful “free mentality” on the Internet and ensure quality journalism.

Sure, newspapers have to make money. But are online articles to be understood as goods as is the case in print newspapers? Readers perceive differently on the internet. You get information faster and less linearly: Articles are shared and exchanged - many readers capitulate at the payment barrier or they share the article anyway.

The example of one shows the drastic effects that locking up relevant information can have picture-Text that went viral in spring 2018 and raised the mood against refugees. A refugee family collects 7,300 euros a month, the lurid headline read. The rest of the article detailed and resolved the circumstances that the family was ultimately not paid more than the welfare rate. Insidiously, however, the entire article was only picture-Plus available to subscribers. Many of those who shared the article in indignation are unlikely to have read it at all.

The range of public discourse is narrowed by digital barriers, explain the two US communications researchers Victor Pickard and Alex T. Williams

The range of public discourse is narrowed by digital barriers, explain the two US communications researchers Victor Pickard and Alex T. Williams. They even rate paywalls as an attempt to "stop the internet from being the internet". Payment barriers touch an important principle of the Internet, the principle of openness. The freedom potential of the Internet cannot be explained in terms of historical deviation; and it consists precisely in not just being a marketplace - even if many want to make it one for lack of other ideas.

The author Merja Myllylathi from the Auckland University of Technology sees, in addition to the lack of accessibility of many online articles, another problem in the fact that news becomes a commodity: payment barriers have the potential to digital divide - this means the unequal distribution in the access and use of information and communication technologies - adding a new social dimension: "between those who can afford to pay for news and those who simply cannot". Only those readers can obtain comprehensive information who have the necessary purchasing power for Plus offers.

A study from American media research also shows that people who pay for content online tend to limit themselves to content that corresponds to their worldview. In other words: You don't like paying for a digital subscription to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungif you are not a fan of the newspaper. Just like you don't order fish in a restaurant if you don't like fish. It was no different in the past, only the loyal, exclusive reader-magazine loyalty from back then fits less and less into the present day.

If socially relevant journalism is walled up behind pay barriers, then at least one must (may) ask to what extent this restricts the possibility of democratic participation

The spread of journalism and the choice of the right model cannot be explored on the basis of the economic dimension alone. If socially relevant journalism is walled up behind pay barriers, then at least one must (may) ask to what extent this restricts the possibility of democratic participation.

The Guardian believes in freedom of choice when it comes to financial support. The journalism of the British daily newspaper is to remain freely accessible. In times of Brexit and Trump, fair and factual reporting is becoming increasingly important. “Why should we force people to pay for our work when we can simply ask them to?” Writes the community editor of the Guardian, Natalie Hanman. They rely on commitment and membership and, according to their own information, already have almost a quarter of a million digital supporters.

In Germany, the taz and das New Germany on the model of voluntary payment. The guiding principle is the same: people who cannot afford a subscription should not be excluded from critical information. Also new journalistic start-ups like the Dutch website De Correspondent manage without a paywall and rely on the participation of an active readership. These media show that the internet leaves a lot of space to experiment with payment models.

Whatever the outcome, such attempts suggest that pay barriers are not the only and best form of digital journalism funding. The largest possible number of free content on the Internet is a desirable goal, which allows the Internet to do what it does best: provide unlimited information and encourage participation.

The author Ilija Matuskotakes care of thatOnline payment model of the taz