Why Newspaper Paywalls Were Antiquated the Day They Started (and How to Fix Them)

I watch Netflix several days a week. I’m not a binge watcher—in fact, I’ve never watched two episodes in a row of any show on Netflix ever. (Not even House of Cards, believe it or not.) But I do watch it and I do enjoy it. Even accessing only the Canadian library, the monthly fee of $8 is excellent value in my opinion. I plan to subscribe indefinitely.

Cable, on the other hand? I ditched it a long time ago. Between my iPad, laptop, and desktop, I barely even touch my television—I’m actually thinking about ditching my TV entirely. Regardless, cable in my view is overpriced and how it works is totally outdated; why should I pay an exorbitant fee to get hundreds of channels when I’m only interested in two or three of them?

And this is exactly why newspaper paywalls were antiquated the day they started. They’re the print media’s version of cable bundles and that’s a serious problem. Newspapers need to take a clue from the criticism of traditional cable products and their recent erosion in popularity—this sort of thing, in today’s world, simply has to be customizable.

Newspapers can surely still offer one flat fee for unlimited access to their entire product for heavy users, but how about breaking things down by section? If all of The Globe and Mail costs $20 per month, why not offer main categories like Business and Technology for $4 each? Very few people read a newspaper like a book, front to back; most read just one or two sections, perhaps three at most. If these readers didn’t have to pay for content they won’t read, they might actually be willing to pay for the content they would read.

Cable companies will resist this “a la carte” method for as long possible, largely because it’s wildly profitable for them and consumers are used to it. But newspaper paywalls are new and consumers aren’t entirely convinced—in this case, print media companies actually stand to earn more revenue a la carte.