A paywall is a system that prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content (most notably news content and scholarly publications) without a paid subscription. There are both "hard" and "soft" paywalls in use. "Hard" paywalls allow minimal to no access to content without subscription, while "soft" paywalls allow more flexibility in what users can view without subscribing, such as selective free content and/or a limited number of articles per month, or the sampling of several pages of a book or paragraphs of an article. Newspapers have been implementing paywalls on their websites to increase their revenue, which has been diminishing due to a decline in print subscriptions and advertising revenue.
While paywalls are used to bring in extra revenue for companies by charging for online content, they have also been used to increase the number of print subscribers. Some newspapers offer access to online content, including delivery of a Sunday print edition at a lower price point than online access alone. News sites such as BostonGlobe.com and NYTimes.com use this tactic because it increases both their online revenue and their print circulation (which in turn provides more ad revenue).
Creating online ad revenue has been an ongoing battle for newspapers – currently an online advertisement only brings in 10–20% of the funds brought in by a duplicate print ad. It is said that “neither digital ad cash nor digital subscriptions via a paywall are in anything like the shape that will be needed for to take the strain if a print presence is wiped away.” According to Poynter media expert Bill Mitchell, in order for a paywall to generate sustainable revenue, newspapers must create “new value” (higher quality, innovative, etc.) in their online content that merits payment which previously free content did not. Most news coverage of the use of paywalls analyzes them from the perspective of commercial success, whether through increasing revenue by growing print subscriptions or solely through paywall revenue. However, as a solely profit-driven device, the use of a paywall also brings up questions of media ethics pertaining to accessible democratic news coverage.
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