In my continued pursuit of ideas to help support investigative journalism, I came across Howard Owens' post, "How David Simon is wrong about paywalls". Writing for Columbia Journalism Review and its feature space, "The Kicker", Owens offers ten arguments that question whether newspaper pay walls can work.
Owens operates The Batavian, a digital news site covering a part of central New York state. That experience gives his arguments some depth, and his post makes a strong case against defending an existing business model to the bitter end. Rather than recap his core points here, I encourage you to make some time and read the full post.
As you can guess from his title, an earlier post by David Simon spurred Owens. Simon has been a vocal (and to my view, somewhat inconsistent) critic of giving away content for free. While I think Owens does a good job building a case against paywalls, I was discouraged by the tone of comments that followed. If you have (a lot) of time, they make for sobering reading: a "war without end."
Concluding his piece, Owens writes:
Newspaper publishers—and the CEOs who hire and fire them—failed, generally, to embrace innovation. And now, rather than take a hard look at their mistakes and figure out a new way forward, publishers are retreating behind paywalls, which feels like a last-ditch effort to fortify a dying business.
For me, this is the truly sobering part. Change "newspaper" to "book". Change "paywalls" to "agency pricing". In both cases, something ends not with a bang, but a whimper.