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On paywalls: A rant.

The paper I work for recently switched to a "paywall" on its website, which, in case you haven't followed all the hype about media, means you have to pay to access the articles after you've read a certain number per month. It's like the New York Times has instituted.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of people upset that the paper's now charging for something that it previously offered free.

There's even one commenter who's like, "I pay for internet! Why should I pay to read what's on it?" And somebody else compared the newspaper website to Netflix and said Netflix charges less, so ergo the paper is charging way too much.

Here, therefore, is my rant.

To get this out of the way: When you get Internet, you're paying for the conveyance of the information. You're not paying for any of the information itself. Complaining that you already pay for Internet is like complaining that you have to pay for something out of a catalog when you already have to be charged the shipping and handling fees.

Now for the important part. What you're reading on a local newspaper website is ORIGINAL CONTENT. It's like your favorite indie band's music that they beg you not to pirate. Or your favorite YouTube producer who kindly requests a small donation or support for a Kickstarter campaign or a lot of word-of-mouth support.

None of those content producers can give what they make for free. Online content, in particular, requires servers and content management systems and webmasters -- and that's not even counting the cost of producing the content that eventually makes it to the website. Newspapers are finally figuring out the costs of a Web presence, and learning (as everyone else has) that undervalued internet advertising revenues don't pay for a hill of beans.

You see, a newspaper is not like Netflix. It would be more like Netflix if all it did was shovel a lot of wire content onto the website -- and make you pay for it. Netflix is primarily a distributor of someone else's original content. (And don't forget, they realized a while back that they couldn't charge lowball prices, either.)

It's not like Wikipedia, where lots of people volunteer their time and effort and skills, and some compromise the site's factual integrity in the process.

It's more like the local carpenter that makes custom furnishings for sale, or the local produce farmer that sets up shop at the Saturday morning farmers market. It's people you'll see in line at the grocery store on Fridays or sit behind in church on Sundays. It's product that you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

You want a city government that listens to the people and is held accountable for its actions?

You want a place to publish free, widely-seen notices about your fundraiser, your support group or your kid's school award?

You want somewhere to vent about the upcoming election or all the potholes down Main Street where hundreds, maybe thousands of people can read it?

Then suck it up and pay for the online content, please!


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