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  • Showing only topics with the tag "paywalls". Back to normal view
    1. Paywalls, and the difficulty of accurately tagging them

      The distinction between Hard and Soft paywalls used to be clear: Hard paywall sites only allowed paying subscribers to view their contents; Soft paywall sites typically used a metered approach...

      The distinction between Hard and Soft paywalls used to be clear:

      Hard paywall sites only allowed paying subscribers to view their contents;
      Soft paywall sites typically used a metered approach that limited non-subscribers to a certain number of free article views per month.

      This made tagging paywalled submission here on Tildes, as either paywall.hard or paywall.soft, pretty easy to do, and doing so provided tangible benefits. They let submitters know when to consider providing a summary of the article, or even mirror/alternative links, so non-subscribers weren't left out. It allowed users to easily avoid or filter-out hard paywall submissions entirely, if they so chose. And also indicated when a paywall was soft, and easier to get around (e.g. by clearing browser cache, or viewing in private-browsing mode), so the article could still be read.

      However in recent years the distinction between Hard and Soft paywalls has become increasingly blurry. And with all the new, constantly evolving, often opaque, paywall mechanics now in play, it has become more difficult to identify and keep track of what type of paywall a site has. E.g.

      Some sites have begun adding article sharing mechanics as a perk for their subscribers (NYT). Some with hard paywalls now allow certain articles of "public interest" to be viewed by everyone (Financial Times). Some still hard paywall their print articles but allow the rest to be viewed for free (Forbes). Some have hard paywalls for recent articles but older ones are free (Boston Globe). Some decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to paywall each individual article, based on editorial board decisions and other unspecified metrics (Business Insider). And apparently some now even switch from Soft to Hard paywalls depending on where in the world the traffic is coming from (WaPo?).

      And as a result of all this, accurately tagging paywalled articles here has become increasingly difficult too, especially since there is no easy way to update all previously applied tags on older articles when a site's paywall type changes.

      So, the question is, what should we do about this?
      Should we simply stop trying to distinguish between hard/soft paywalls in the tags?
      Should we add another "hybrid" category?
      Should we just do away with the paywall tag entirely?
      Or is there a better solution to this problem?

      p.s. I started a "Hard vs Soft Paywalls" wiki entry to try to keep track of all the paywall types, as well as the various new mechanics I have been able to identify, for the sites commonly submitted to Tildes.

      17 votes
    2. Would you pay for access to Tildes?

      Tildes is 100% donation-supported. It sounds great but I'm doubtful it's a sustainable model. Countless sites have started this way but ended up seeking other ways to monetize, including......

      Tildes is 100% donation-supported. It sounds great but I'm doubtful it's a sustainable model. Countless sites have started this way but ended up seeking other ways to monetize, including...

      1. Showing ads on the site
      2. Intermingling "sponsored posts" or "promoted posts" with regular posts, basically giving preferential treatment to content from users who paid for extra visibility (native advertising)
      3. Selling user data
      4. Cryptocurrency mining (either with user permission or on the sly)
      5. Opening a store for selling branded merch
      6. Periodic "pledge drive" fundraising campaigns
      7. Enacting paywalls

      I've been thinking a lot about site monetization in the abstract lately. Some of these options are better than others. Personally, I'd draw a hard line against 1-4 on Tildes. I think all of those are in direct opposition to what this site is all about.

      I think 5 is a "good in theory, but not in practice" idea. A merch store might generate enough revenue for the first few months but would see rapidly diminishing returns. It would have to resort to increasingly gimmicky promotions just to reach eyeballs and meet its goals.

      I think 6 could be a popular option but I personally recoil from the annual hard-sell guilt trip. The recurring drama of "THIS COULD BE OUR LAST YEAR IF YOU DO NOTHING" is exhausting and paints the site's future as constantly in turmoil.

      Finally we come to 7, the paywall. Traditionally I hate these too, especially when they block content like news that is available for free elsewhere. Sometimes they are "soft" paywalls that give you free access to an article (or the first few paragraphs of one) before they ask you to pony up. I feel that these are the worst form of paywall because they tease and frustrate users, and are often easily circumventable anyway.

      That said, I think a "hard" paywall might actually be a good choice for Tildes. For starters, this is already a walled garden. We're actively trying to cultivate a community by not exposing the site to the wider world. That would at least make the transition to a paywall easier to swallow than if the site had been open the whole time.

      It's 2018. By now it's evident to me that TANSTAAFL online. If you're not paying for something, you are the product. I'm a dyed in the wool cheapskate and I don't like opening my wallet to use a website, but at this point I'm even more tired of being treated like a commodity. If I'm going to invest in an online community, I'd much rather pay a small subscription for access than be jerked around in shady ways. I feel it's the most honest and straightforward solution for a site like this.

      Caveats are that it would need to be cheap. Really cheap, like $1 a month. I don't know what the site's operating expenses are, but I would hope something in that ballpark would cover them, at scale. Also @Deimos would face the temptation to implement multiple options from the list as time goes on. Like, after we're used to the paywall, he might want to add "unobtrusive" ads too, or start selling "non-identifiable" user information. I think it's vital that the site never compromise like that. Raise the price if it comes to that, but don't get greedy. A page in the docs formalizing some promises about respecting users would be a nice thing to put on the record.

      What are your thoughts? I should say that I'm talking about the future here, I think it's way too early to put up a paywall now. The community would have to be large and mature enough to justify a paid subscription to it, and we're not there yet.

      12 votes