Knight Center
Knight Center


Washington Post considers going behind paywall in 2013

Long a holdout against the trend of forcing readers to pay for its digital content, The Washington Post looks set to implement a paywall sometime in 2013, reported Keach Hagey for The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Dec. 6.  The decision would be a reversal of Post CEO Donald Graham’s previous stance against paywalls. 

According to The Washington Post, the newspaper is considering a metered paywall, similar to one used by The New York Times, that limits the number of articles and digital content users can read each month before requiring a subscription. Print readers would have unlimited access to online content.  

The Post has been losing circulation at a higher rate than the national average as it struggles to improve profitability through budget cuts and revenue increases, according to Poynter. 

GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram wrote in July that a paywall was unlikely at the Post because of the newspaper’s distribution model and the “backwards-looking” nature of paywalls.  

Graham said at a conference hosted by the Aspen Institute that the majority of the Post’s online readership—over 90 percent, according to GigaOm—comes from people outside the D.C. metropolitan area. Without being able to offer print editions across the country, Graham was uncertain if readers would pay for digital-only subscriptions.   

Perhaps more interesting was the argument that the newspaper should “go where the readers are,” experimenting with new media platforms and social media, like the Washington Post Social Reader, to drive readership instead of trying to shoehorn readers into one-size-fits-all publication. 

Hagey reported that The New York Times’ success with a metered paywall, with 500,000 subscribers and supposedly enough revenue to offset the loss in advertising, according to The Economist, likely helped soften Graham’s stance on paywalls. 

Media critic David Carr poured cold water on the idea in his column for Media Decoder, arguing that the Times’ experience was not scalable across the news industry. For example, The Boston Globe, the former home of the Post’s new editor Martin Baron, only gathered 25,000 subscribers when it raised its paywall.   

Poynter noted that 360 U.S. newspapers will join The New York Times and Wall Street Journal in charging for digital content by 2013, including Gannett, Tribune and Media General. McClatchy and E.W. Scripts will also likely join the bandwagon, the blog post said.

Muck Rack will host a Twitter debate about paywalls on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 8 p.m. EST. Join the conversation with the hashtag #muckedup

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