A model to save newspapers: Where paywalls actually work
Media paywalls are proving difficult to implement around the world. Here are two places they are working.
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"The Piano Media model could possibly work elsewhere if people got used to the idea that news was something special, but the papers have spent too much time disguising what they are and what they do well.... People have become so habituated to mush that they may not know what to do with hard news."Skip to next paragraph
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Some argue that paywalls may have a greater chance of success in post-communist societies that, having lacked a free press for decades, understand its value and are more willing to pay for news.
"Slovakia is a place that didn't have an easy, free press. [The success of] the emergent press is specific to the political conditions of the country," says Mr. Greenslade, explaining why he thinks a paywall has more chance of success in Eastern Europe.
But Matija Stepisnik, a journalist with the Slovenia daily Vecer, says that the lack of free press in the past is no longer relevant and that the implementation of the Piano Media paywall – of which Vecer will be a part – has been controversial.
"The results after [the] first weeks will be very interesting and some sort of litmus test. The audience in Slovenia is accustomed to free access to Internet news, although there are [already] some media houses with their own pay systems. The media culture [needs to] change quite a lot [so] that people will recognize that quality content, analysis [and] columns can not be [had] for free any more," he says in an e-mail. "The reputation of media has fallen quite dramatically in the last years due to crisis of credibility of owners, so it is a big question how Piano will be accepted."
There are legal considerations as well. Some say a national paywall could violate antitrust laws. In the United States, proposals that the major papers go behind a paywall simultaneously have sometimes been discredited on those grounds.
Robert Levine, author of "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back," says any collective effort would be resisted by major Internet businesses such as Google and that they might try to block it with antitrust legislation.
"Google has incredible negotiating leverage with individual newspapers, because each paper in the US doesn't have a lot of power. If they acted together, Google would lose that advantage, and it would act," he says in an e-mail.
"The arrangement is not necessarily anticompetitive," she says. The paywall might be comparable to groups that collect royalties for writers for use of their work in libraries – a setup exempt from EU anticompetitiveness legislation.
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