There is a word that I’m seeing more and more on the internet, and you had better learn what it is because it’s very important.  The word is “paywall.”  A paywall is what you slam into while blissfully surfing the internet, find an interesting article that you want to read, but realize you can’t read it because you haven’t paid for that privilege.

I first ran into a paywall while following a link to an article on the Wall Street Journal site.  Then The New York Times created one that at first allowed surfers to read 20 articles a month free, but now only allows them to read 10.  You can’t read a single Boston Globe article without paying $3.99 per week.  And now there’s a report that both The Washington Post and USA Today will create paywalls later this year.

I can understand their problem.  Print newspapers are struggling due to a fall in readership (mostly among young people who have grown up with the internet, I suspect), and the ease of access, and instance relevance of what we read on the internet.  The information in many of the articles in our daily newspapers is terribly outdated by the time we pick up the morning paper.  We live in a world where we demand instant access to the latest details on the stories we care about, and print newspapers simply don’t (and can’t) cut it anymore.  All internet news sites have advertisements, but they obviously don’t generate enough revenue to make the sites profitable, so what’s left to do?  Charge us for what we want to read.

But here’s the problem: The more sites that erect paywalls, the more money we will have to shell out to gain access to them.  Let’s say that we have to pay $200 per year to access each of the following: The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.  That’s $800 per year we have to shell out to have access to four sites.  It seems that more and more sites will consider paywalls in the future, so that $800 may just be the beginning.  It seems reasonable to assume that at some point internet users will have to decide if it’s worth the cost to visit multiple news sites (to continue with the above example).  Won’t paywalls become self-limiting?

I’m running into this problem already as I search the internet for article that I think you might enjoy.  I seldom recommend articles from The New York Times now because I suspect that many readers will not be able to access them.  As time goes by I will probably have to drastically limit the sites I choose article from due to paywalls.  That’s unfortunate.

So what’s the solution?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps drastically lowering the yearly cost to access pay-to-read sites would at least be a start.  For the long term, your guess is as good as mine.

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