I speak a little Swedish, so I can just about understand a little Norwegian. But only just. So please forgive me if I’ve misunderstood.
I’m not saying that the Times’ paywall system is necessarily the best answer. But I do think the idea that it will create a smaller, tighter, more intimate community is a compelling one. A good user community is certainly a goal worth striving for. And it’s something I hadn’t heard discussed with reference to paywalls until I heard Tom Whitwell talk about it at news:rewired.
Is it a goal worth sacrificing 90% of readership for?
I don’t know. There are other ways to build community, too.
Walling off the Times will undoubtedly change its community dynamics profoundly. It will excise the Times from the wider community debate on current issues around the internet. It will create a smaller, more selective community debate within the paywall, with asymmetric linking (people inside will be able to link out, but people outside won’t be able to link in).
This fact alone changes everything, because it’s all about the links.
But a good user community is something that can make a site a destination in its own right. Like I said, it’s worth striving for.
As for the people outside the paywall: the public value they receive from Times journalism is reduced to zero. Or is it? Any big stories and scoops the Times unearths will inevitably be followed up by free news sources like the BBC. There’s not much they can do to stop other companies from calling their sources. No exclusive they get will stay that way for long, with an interconnected community of journalists on the job.
Ironically, the bigger the scoop, the harder it will be to keep inside the paywall. So I wonder where that puts the Times in the news ecosystem.
It’s time to wait and see. The paywall is supposed to go up today (though apparently for some people the gates are still open for now). The wall may make the Times a profitable hub of good value journalism with a vibrant, intimate user community. It may isolate the Times from the wider debate and turn its user community into an incestuous Murdochian backwater. Or, maybe, the Times will end up somewhere in between.
I don’t think it’s as simple a case as good vs. evil, paywalls vs. open internet. I think that paywalls are a special solution that already works for some sites and may work for others.
I’ll be following further developments with great interest.