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Paywalls: blocking the social media link?

At the same time paywalls have increased in popularity at newspaper websites, the linking culture of social media has flourished. But the two elements of new media may not go hand-in-hand, especially when a reader clicking on a Twitter link suddenly finds the article paywall-blocked.

The New York Times combated this issue by opening up articles to those linking via social media. This could be viewed as a not entirely economical idea, although one that keeps traffic and the conversation flowing. But a variety of paywall models exist, and not all are necessarily social media link killers, nor are they all user-friendly.

The metered paywall seems to be the model that most newspapers are currently adopting. North Carolina’s Hickory Daily Record is no exception. “Some content is free, no matter how many times you click on it,” said editor John Miller in an email interview. All content is free for the first 15 clicks for a period of 30 days, then its time to subscribe. Simply enough, if a reader hasn’t used up their 15 clicks and links to an article through a social media link, it’s open reading. “If they are over, then they would be met by a paywall,” he said. “We think the 15 free click-throughs will allow the casual audience to see what we’re doing for free. But for someone who regularly consumes our content, it shouldn’t be free because there’s a cost in producing it.”

The very grace of the metered model is the free content readers are able to consume before they are required to pay. Massachusetts-based Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s website follows a metered model, allowing readers to view two locally produced news articles per calendar month for free. On the third story, a reader will be asked to complete a free registration process which enables them to read 10 more news articles for the month. After that, readers can subscribe or purchase a day pass. Telegram & Gazette online director Mark Henderson believes that a metered paywall may have less of an impact on social media links compared to models that instantly block the majority of content. “First, our subscribers have another way to reach our stories, and they have unlimited access to Telegram.com. Second, not all of the content linked to from social media sites would count. In other words, many links are not to locally produced news articles for which we count the click. And third, social media helps us reach a different audience that may not navigate to Telegram.com or, if they do, not often enough for them to be asked to register.”

Ohio’s Lima News is contemplating a move to a metered model after launching a paywall over a year ago that blocks all readers from reading local news content without a subscription. “We don’t think people should be able to see everything, but one or two things we’re open to,” said Lima News new media editor David Trinko. The current model, Trinko admitted, has hurt potential traffic coming from social media platforms and has made it difficult to track where people are coming from.

So far, the paper has already moved their sports content out from behind the paywall because of the popularity of their Ohio State football coverage. It’s hard to figure how much content to share, especially when comparing mid-sized papers to bigger papers, he noted. But in the meantime, he is excited at the prospect of more people being able to link to their content with a different model, while still protecting their brand. “Right now, the paywall is a constantly changing thing,” he said. And while the paywall continues to evolve, it’s evident that social media linking is a vital element in moving Web traffic with many news organizations onboard to see that it continues.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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