Turning Pay Walls Into Welcome Mats
You had to pay to get in.
Roughly 250 people paid $15 or $20 apiece to attend a party hosted by the staff of Defector, a subscription website started a year ago by journalists who had quit (or were fired from) the sports news site Deadspin after refusing to heed a request from their bosses that they “stick to sports.”
The party guests were accustomed to paying. They were Defector subscribers, for the most part, meaning they had paid $79 for a year’s subscription, allowing them to get past a strict paywall to read articles like “What 1993 Video Game Tony La Russa Taught Me About Baseball” and “Please, I Am Begging You, Stop Putting the Giants in Primetime.”
In charging for access to its website, Defector differs from its predecessor, Deadspin, which belongs to a digital-media generation that gives readers free access and tries to make money by selling ads.
It remains a challenge for online publications to persuade readers to pay, and it’s perhaps more difficult to get them to pay again after the initial subscription. Defector is optimistic that it will hang on to its fan base as it heads into its second year.
Print newspapers charged readers for a century, and readers never questioned the idea that they would have to pay for journalism. The first generations of online-only news sites, eager to build their audiences by pulling readers away from old habits, offered up their work free of charge.
Defector and digital newsletter platform Substack are part of a wider shift, one made possible by readers who have come to see paying for journalism as the right thing to do, rather than an annoyance.
The Daily Memphian, a nonprofit news site in Memphis, Tennessee, is also part of the wave, with readers contributing the bulk of its revenue. It started in 2018 in response to the shrinking of the local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. Nearly 17,000 subscribers pay $99 per year (or $12.99 per month) for The Memphian, and they have renewed their subscriptions at a rate of 90%, said Eric Barnes, the publication’s CEO. Ad sales, sponsorships and donations cover the rest of a $5 million annual budget that supports a newsroom of 38.
“People paid for news for decades,” Barnes said. “Why can’t they pay for it now?”
文／Marc Tracy 譯／李京倫