Paying for Things That Used to Be Free

The Internet has dramatically changed the way people access information. Once predominantly free, the Internet is changing as well, as content providers increasingly charge for access. Paying to access information has potentially farreaching social, political, and economic consequences. Results suggest that at least over the relatively short timeframe of the current study, participants exhibited strong psychological reactance, particularly those in the inequity cluster. Participants generally did not plan to purchase a digital subscription and were remarkably consistent in their subsequent behavior. They decreased their visits, devalued the NYT, and frequently planned to exploit loopholes to bypass the paywall or switch providers altogether…

When participants were provided with a compelling justification for the paywall—that the NYT was likely to go bankrupt without it—their support and willingness to pay increased. In contrast, when participants were provided with a justification that emphasized financial stability, their support and willingness to pay decreased. It is possible that this latter condition simply confirmed participants’ sense that the paywall was unfair, rather than providing a compelling profit justification. Either way, results suggest that content providers could benefit from more thorough attempts to justify price structures.

When The New York Times announced it was going to throw up a paywall, I had the minority reaction of, “This makes sense. Reporters have to get paid somehow!” Of course, my thoughts were colored by the facts that I was working in journalism, and had friends who worked at the Times who were subsequently laid off due to cutbacks. But this study about consumer psychology behind what happens when you ask people to pay for something that used to be free (and how you frame it) is fascinating. But the Times appears to have made it out alive. Billfold paywall anyone? (Haha, just kidding, never would we ever.)

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

I’d be interested to see how this correlates with measures of quality. Like, what if the NYT said “We will use the money from this paywall to fund serious investigative and foreign reporting that we won’t be able to afford without it.” Then again there is a common reaction when a public service provider like a utility or Metro here in DC asks for rate increases — they say the want the money to improve service, but customers say “Why should we pay more when the quality of service you provide is declining?”

Also, I would pay more for The Billfold than for the NY Times.

Mike Dang (#2)

@stuffisthings Don’t tempt us! :)

@Mike Dang But you could be the proud owner of More Than Zero Dollars!

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@stuffisthings @MikeDang I would be willing to pay a many as several dollars for this site. At least in a hypothetical world where I had several dollars to spend on things not directly related to my survival.

Mike Dang (#2)

@EvanDeSimone You guys are so kind! But seriously, we would never ever make any of our readers pay.

chic noir (#713)

@Mike Dang yea I wouldn’t be against paying a few bucks per month for this site. I get so much joy from this site.

megsy (#1,565)

The Billfold would have to seriously increase the quantity of its reporting for me to pay for it.
One of our national newspapers up here in Canada announced a paywall but it’s more expensive than the NYT. I would be more inclined to pay for the NYT than I would for our national newspaper. The globe (the paper with the paywall) is charging $20/month for access – but so far I haven’t seen if there’s a noticeable difference in quality/quantity. If someone wants to start charging me for something that was free, I want to see a significant increase in what I am getting for my money.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@megsy seriously? I would never pay money for it – my old roommate used to order the paper globe on saturdays. now the cbc, that, I would pay money for. we might have to, even, given our current government

There are just so many viable alternatives that I don’t see much value in paying for news.

What would I actually pay for? Original creative work. I’d subscribe to a Hairpin feed for example to get regular updates on Ghost or The League of Ordinary Ladies.

It’s the same on TV. If we didn’t get CNN on cable, who would actually pay a separate fee to subscribe? But we gladly pay for HBO or Showtime.

Megano! (#124)

OK, as a writer, I get that paywalls are necessary. But at the same time, what will be ramifications for people who can’t afford this information otherwise?

Mike Dang (#2)

@Megano! What I do like about the Times is that they offer casual news readers 10 free articles a month, and turn off their paywalls during times of crisis when people need access to information most critically (like they did during Sandy). I’m a hardcore news reader—I read the Times several times a day, every day. Clearly, the information is useful and valuable to me, so I’m happy to pay for it. It’s $3.75 a week for my digital subscription, which, for me, is affordable. I mean, before the Internet, everyone paid for news because people were getting their news from newspapers. It’s hard for me to find some of the same quality, long-form reporting I see in the Times at similar 24-hour news sites, so I’m happy to pay my $3.75 a week to have access to it.

How about some free advice: don’t overspend in the first place, and you’ll have enough money to purchase the things you want and need, and you’ll get them just the way you like them with no speedy loans assistance.

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