August 7, 2018

Paywalls and the Atheist Blogger

New York Times Paywall
Photo by André-Pierre du Plessis [CC BY 2.0]
Indi (Canadian Atheist) recently raised an issue I hadn't thought much about: the increasing use of paywalls by major news websites and their impact on atheist bloggers. I think that most of us recognize that journalism is expensive, especially when it involves the sort of investigative reporting on which we rely. The paywall model isn't necessarily a bad one when it comes to individuals obtaining news from a preferred source. For example, if I were to decide that I really like what the New York Times is doing and can afford to pay them for doing it, I could get an online subscription and never have to deal with their paywall again.

Unfortunately, the paywall model quickly falls apart for the average atheist blogger. Suppose I did pay up for an online subscription to the New York Times. I wouldn't have to worry about their paywall getting in the way when I tried to access the site, but this wouldn't help you any. When I linked to stories from the Times in my posts and you clicked on those links, you'd hit the paywall. The only way this would work is if everybody paid, and there's just no way that's going to happen. And even if it was realistic for everybody to pay, it still wouldn't solve the problem. Why? Most atheist bloggers like to share news from a variety of sources on a fairly regular basis. The Times is far too expensive as it is. Imagine adding 10 more sources behind paywalls, and the problem is easy to comprehend. It is not a viable model for the sort of linking most bloggers do.

Indi notes that Canadian Atheist is no longer going to link to websites that are behind paywalls, and I think that makes a great deal of sense. I should probably try to do the same. Where this often falls apart is that I don't always realize that a site I'm linking to has a paywall. This can happen if I've only visited the site a couple times in a month and haven't yet triggered the paywall. There are also a handful of sites where it is so easy to get around the paywall that I don't always remember that there is one. But most of all, this issue just wasn't on my radar until Indi brought it up.

It has always seemed to me that news websites, including the big ones that are now going behind paywalls, benefit when bloggers link to their content and when people share their content on social media. By placing their content behind paywalls, they are making it less likely that this will continue to happen. Why would I share a link if I know it will just take you to a paywall? It is difficult to imagine how that's good for their business.