UOSM 2008: Topic 5 Explain the advantages and disadvantages to a content producer of making their materials freely available online

Explain the advantages and disadvantages to a content producer of making their materials freely available online

Firstly, I would like to introduce The Nielson Company’s research ‘changing models a global perspective on paying for content online’ which highlights as expected, that ‘the vast majority (85%) [of consumers] prefer that free content remain free.’[1] However, it has emerged that the survey participants are more willing to at least consider paying for particular categories, especially if they have done so previously. This graph sheds some light on this:

Image source: http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/newswire/uploads/2010/02/paid-content-type.png

As this is such a wide and diverse topic, I have chosen to focus on what first came to mind when I considered the accessibility of online content, that of newspapers. This is because I have been, on occasion, frustrated by my inability to access news articles. I must note that I would be reluctant to pay for news content for a variety of reasons, and therefore, have found myself by default and happily so a Guardian reader.

Newspapers worldwide are implementing paywalls in an effort to convert large, free-reading online audiences into paid subscribers. In the UK, ‘The Times,The Sunday TimesThe Financial TimesThe Daily Telegraph and The Sun, among others, have all implemented (or announced plans to implement) paywalls — but The Guardian, […], has no plans to join them.’[2] It will be beneficial to first outline the varying types of ‘paywalls’ available, followed by the advantages/disadvantages for and against their implementation.

Types of Paywall[3]

  1. The Absolute Paywall
  2. Content Restrictions
  3. Device-Specific models
  4. Metering
  5. First click free and sharing

Please see this article for more detailed info on varying implementation of paywalls and examples of success.

Arguments for the implementation of Paywalls

  • Prevent newspapers from going bankrupt or suffering huge financial losses
  • As we transition from printed journalism, a paid for commodity, to digitised – no information is lost, if anything the wealth of articles and ability to access them has increased, there has been a growth in service – a service that should arguably continue to be paid for.
  • Creates a community of dedicated/loyal readers – perhaps with a shared sense of values

Arguments against the implementation of Paywalls

  • Competition, organisations such as the BBC will continue to produce news content free of charge
  • Open access allows greater visibility, content can be shared/go viral unencumbered
  • Open access enables a higher percentage of individuals to access information, learn and contribute – prevents exclusion on a financial basis.
  • A higher number of readers and as a result more engagement
  • Digital-only display ad revenues – a viable financial alternative
  • People traditionally paid for ‘print’ newspapers because of the recognised cost of production and the nature of a ‘tangible’ product
  • The web is and has been, inherently FREE

If you wish, take a moment to read through this case study[4] of the Mail Online’s distinct reasons behind remaining FREE.

 To conclude, I remain in favour of online content being accessible for all and free. I believe that it is important to keep informative educational news portals open. It speaks volumes that: ‘open access adds 141.8% to the total readership of the Guardian and Observer, turning 907,000 daily print followers into 2,194,000.’[5] As Peter Preston states: ‘readership figures for The Times and Sunday Times versus the Guardian and Observer – show the difference a paywall makes.’[6]


[1] Covey, Nic, ‘Changing Models a global perspective on paying for content online’, The Nielsen Company, published 16/02/2010, accessed here: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2010/changing-models-a-global-perspective-on-paying-for-content-online.html

[2] Indvik, Lauren, ‘The Guardian’:We’re not planning on a paywall’, Mashable, published April 17th, 2013, http://mashable.com/2013/04/17/the-guardian-no-paywall/

[3] Jackson, Japser, ‘As Telegraph joins paywall bandwagon, here’s five leading approaches to gated access and user revenues’, The Media Briefing, published here:http://www.themediabriefing.com/article/paywall-approaches-gated-access

[4] Andrews, Robert, ‘Mail Online: Why we’re staying free’, The Guardian, published 20th April 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2010/apr/20/mailonline-strategy-paywall

[5] Preston, Peter, ‘Paywalls or not?’, The Observer, published 2nd March 2014,http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/mar/02/times-guardian-website-users-paywall

[6] Preston, Peter, ‘Paywalls or not?’, The Observer, published 2nd March 2014,http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/mar/02/times-guardian-website-users-paywall


12 thoughts on “UOSM 2008: Topic 5 Explain the advantages and disadvantages to a content producer of making their materials freely available online

  1. Hi Alysia,
    As it the nature of the UOSM2008 module, we’ve focused on completely different aspects of the broad topic, which is great as I was really intrigued by your viewpoint and thoroughly enjoyed your posting!
    I touched on the news industry as a highlight of my blog as it is something that I feel divided about; I, like you, am not willing to pay for news when not all newspapers are charging for access to online content. However, if every company charged an annual fee then I would be more than happy to pay for a subscription (if this makes sense), so I both agree and disagree with the argument surrounding paywalls.
    Thank you for your link to the Mail Online’s argument for the reasons for being free, as it is my digital newspaper of choice, I found the reasoning behind it succinct and logical.
    The chart you provided is also stimulating; but I was not surprised to find that people are less willing to pay for blogs than they are for music. Having said that, Kaya highlighted that blogs can be free and still generate vast amounts of money, using the foodie blog Passionforbaking as an example; the business strategy stemmed from allowing readers access to free content and is now an author, so generates income from those who are willing to pay for content.
    What did you think of access to free content in the educational or media sector? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this!


    • Hi Georgia,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post and your thoughts on subscription payments makes absolute sense.

      Alan Rushbridge, Editor in-chief at The Guardian can be quoted: “In Britain you have the BBC which employs something like 8,000 journalists. So if you are going to go behind a paywall up against the BBC and ITN and Sky News, that is quite a big thing to do, you have to be very confident that what you’re producing is really excellent, because all of that is going to remain free forever.” Source:http://mashable.com/2013/04/17/the-guardian-no-paywall/

      This indicates that part of The Guardian’s reasoning for remaining paywall free is owing to the competition faced by organisations such as the BBC – who will remain free.

      In terms of Education – I believe that open access or the availability of free content online is of the utmost importance as it enables individuals to learn and inform themselves. Demand for online higher education is at record levels, and this is largely owing to the financial benefits and flexibility it allows. I feel that free online academic resources could potentially reduce inequality in education (in terms of access and the debate: Is education a right or a privilege?)

      However, Yee Ping Pang’s blog post introduced me to Colberg who states: ‘from an economics background, I believe that the internet should act as a market place where goods and services should be exchanged (Colberg, 2010)’. I recognise that there is a cost to academic research and the provision of academic resources but I would be an advocate for lower priced subscription payments to access a multitude of content. As I believe we are entering a period of subscription culture (Netflix, Spotify, The Time Onlines and so on).

      Once again – Thank you for reading!

  2. Hi Alysia,

    Great topic and quite an interesting post you wrote. I especially enjoyed the graph at the beginning, which shows what type of content people are paying for or willing to pay most. I think we can clearly see, that most of Internet produced content – blogs, podcasts and social media cannot be seen as non-free by people. Another thing which attracted my attention is the the term “Paywall” and explanation of its benefits and disadvantages. And of course people opinion about it.

    I can see that you’ve explained your opinion about educational material and you are in favor of open access. But I am just curious, what other digital information (text/audio/video) do you think should be available to people in open access?


    • Hi Vlad,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post.

      Following your question regarding what further content should be available to people in open access – I think I have to apologise as I don’t feel like I have thought about this in the most nuanced way. I, personally, have not found that for the most part I cannot access digital material that I desire. The Internet is inherently free. It is a rarity that I find I am asked to pay to access content.


  3. Hi Alysia,

    The focus of this post definitely makes it unique and interesting, many others have chosen to focus on the educational side of the article -discussing access to academic research for example. There’s a lot of good points and links to further evidence packed into a short post here too!

    You’ve put forward a good argument and I tend to agree that online articles should remain freely accessible. I think if digitised media charged from it’s launch opposed to trying to change it after ‘free’ has long been established as the norm there would probably be less controversy about paying for it.
    I wonder if a piracy markets similar to illegal music and movie downloading would emerge as a result, it seems unlikely a digital black market for international news would appear though. Particularly if the Guardian etc remain free as news media frequently tells the same story from multiple perspectives -it seems unlikely multiple news stories from different news brands on the same topic would be read if costs were put in place.

    In terms of the statistics presented it’s interesting that movies, music and games are the top 3 people are willing to/ have already paid for. I’d be curious to see how the response for more academic sources such as research papers compared. I also wonder if what the online resource is needed for will greatly effect the persons willingness to pay for it, for example educational/ professional reasons vs leisure/ recreational.
    For example, I personally would be less willing to pay for research articles and news content needed for my degree as I feel the body being paid to provide the degree programme should pay for things like this with the tuition fees -whereas is I wanted to read them for my own personal interest I would be more likely to invest.

    Interesting post which got me thinking,

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