The Independent would like to inform readers that beginning next year we will be introducing a digital subscriber paywall. This is a fancy way of saying you will have to pay money to read our paper online (notice how cleverly we bury the key – indeed, the only relevant – word: ‘pay’). Like any good drug dealer or sleazebag loanshark, we’ll keep you hooked with a little bit of free content – say 10 free articles a month – but after that you gotta pay up or get beat up. I mean get cut off.
Information costs more now. I mean, c’mon!
Why are we doing this? No, not just because everybody else is (Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, New York Times…) Let us say it is because, to quote the Toronto Star in their recent self-defense column, “it costs big bucks to run a decent paper”. Of course, the critical and discerning reader will probably note that most newspapers have been online for the past decade or more and in fact it cost “big bucks to run a decent paper” during all those years of free content as well. Ho! – good job, critical and discerning reader. You’re precisely the sort of reader we don’t want (and who will probably not be gulled into paying for our product, so we all wind up happy!). So the real answer is: we’re doing it cuz we can, cuz we want more of your money, and cuz other papers are doing it so we can collectively build a big smokescreen and blame it on “the changing nature of the industry” while disguising the fact we ALL really just want more of your money.
Whose headlines are these, anyway?
You might think, from the way this is going, that it’s all about the money. Well, yes. The fact is, it’s not really about journalism. Papers aren’t run by journalists any more (any more than universities are run by professors, schools are run by educators, or hospitals are run by doctors. Can you imagine what sort of world that would produce? Sheesh, we’d wind up back in the golden era of the 1960s or 1970s, when people were happier, healthier, wealthier, but nobody had Blu-Ray!). The fact of the matter is that everything is run by managers. These are people who don’t really do anything productive (in terms of society, but who talks about society any more anyway?). Managers are people who are accountable to investors. Investors buy control over newspapers because they want to make money off of them. They hire managers to find ways to make money. Managers come up with great ideas like laying off journalists (saves money!), cutting salaries for journalists (saves money!), relying on poor quality mass-produced content (saves money!), exploiting the labour of unpaid ‘interns’ and underpaid freelancers (saves money!), replacing news story space with ads (makes money!) and fleecing the people who read the newspapers (makes money!).
(Building digital subscriber paywalls counts as fleecing people, btw. Except on our managers’ annual reports where it counts double because that way our managers get a bigger bonus at the end of the year.)
Anyway, the point is, as we explained, newspapers like us are no longer really about journalism. If we were, we’d continue trucking along quite happily. You see, it doesn’t actually cost a LOT to run a newspaper (especially when you have investors). You need to pay journalists, buy a bit of gear…that’s about it. Sure, there’s challenges. Printing costs can be pricy (especially when you print excessive copies in ultra-colour because advertisers demand it and because your investors want advertisers. And because headlines look pretty in pink). Journalists want (and good ones deserve) pay raises. But these costs are really just peanuts. And not even chocolate-covered peanuts! The problem arises because investors want profits. I mean, who wouldn’t? And the richer our investors, the more profits they want. And paradoxically, the worse the economy, the more profits they want too. If we didn’t care so much about the profits, we’d find ways to keep our paper accessible. We’d print special issues; have our journalists publish books on the side; run off exclusive investigative report documentaries; you know, all the sorts of successful ideas other papers – good papers – have figured out over the years.
In fact, as the Globe and Mail’s Editor-in-Chief recently explained while defending their new paywall, “IT and customer service are far more challenging than the journalism.” Journalists got the easy job. Lazy bums. Thankfully, most papers with digital paywalls don’t keep decent journalists around for long anyway. The irksome troublemakers want respect. And readers. So they go elsewhere.
The Globe’s a good example actually. (If you’ve already exceeded your 10 free articles a month, you won’t be able to read that last link. Suckaz!) Their Editor explained that they recently started charging because they discovered people were willing to pay (eureka!); or as they put it “consumers’ increased willingness to pay for things they get online”. Although as this story observes, the decision was really preceded by “the development of an iPad app that they discovered people weren’t willing to pay for”. (Italics mine. Cuz I can!) So in fact, the Globe discovered that people WEREN’T willing to pay for things they get online, so they decided to give them no choice but to pay for the things they get online, which they then justified as an indication people were willing to pay for the things they get online.
See, logic and reason work much better when they’re able to dodge serious critique behind digital subscriber paywalls.
The good ol’ predictable market … she’s gone b’y, she’s gone.
Oh, the Globe also blamed an “unpredictable advertising market”. Aww, poor sods. Don’t you miss the days when there used to be such an easy and predictable advertising market?
You know…back then! The Predictable Advertising Era!
Anyway, there’s other benefits to making users pay. You see, it changes the nature of our readership. It’s tough trying to write for all of society. I mean, if we were going to try to be honest, balanced, professional reporters, we’d have to try to tell things like they are. We’d have to probe for the truth. We’d have to TELL YOU THE TRUTH. Omg, do you know how MESSY that gets? We write about police brutality, and the police hate us. We write about government corruption, and the government hates us and won’t do interviews with us. We write about corporate crime and our investors hate us and stop investing.
We just want people to like us!
Or at least, some people. Preferably those with money. Cuz we like money. Have I mentioned that this is about the money?
Stay informed and contribute to society … if you can afford it
So with a digital subscriber paywall, we think of it as “pruning our readership”. The poor, the working class, the lower-income, immigrants, heck even the middle-class…they ain’t gonna pay. Our readership will become skewed, elitist, whiter, maler, and statistically wealthier. But this makes things easier for us. We know who we’re writing for. We know what they like to hear. And we’ll give it to them.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
Sure, we might ignore breaking stories, omit important facts and angles, look the other way in the face of corruption and badness…
But at least people will like us and invite us to their Christmas Party at the Royal York Hotel.
What’s that? Oh right. You’re one of those who thinks journalism is supposed to be a sacred calling. You know, that journalists have an obligation to society and to their fellow citizens. You think our job is to shine a discerning, critical, objective light on our society so as to educate and inform the public and enable us to collectively build a more educated and progressive society.
Well, here’s hoping you got a nice frock-coat to keep you warm in that Edwardian era fantasy-world of yours, bub.
Let’s reason here…
Look, let’s not leave on a bad note. This can work out well for all of us. We’re just newspapers that are not so into news anymore. Journalists who are sick and tired and burned out from doing journalism. We just want money. Is that so bad? And besides, there will always be online papers offering good quality content for free. In fact, they are the ones who will be doing the real journalism. Because they care about it. They care about our world. And they care about you. They’re the ones who care about getting the truth out there, and helping us to understand this society we live in. They understand that good journalism is a civic duty, not a Monopoly game. There are many such online papers. All you’ll need to do is change your bookmarks. If it makes you feel better, you don’t even need to think of subscriber-only-paywall-papers as real newspapers, really. Think of us as commissioned artists. You know, painting pretty pictures of the world in response to the whims of our wealthy patrons, and reflecting the world they want to see and believe in. What, you want Da Vinci? Van Gogh? Well you won’t find them hiding behind digital subscriber paywalls, buddy. For the real journalistic masterpieces, go here. Or here. Or here.
Anyway, we hope you understand. If we’re hastening the decline of journalism as an honourable and reputable profession, it’s not intentional.
We just want your money.
Editor’s note: this is satire. The Independent does not charge a digital subscriber paywall.
And we never will.