Paywalls Media

Paywalls are OK, but Dumb Paywalls Aren’t

  • Mike
  • November 3, 2019

I have hacked the paywall of my hometown newspaper’s website, STLToday.com, two or three times now. The first time came with more fanfare than I expected and the subsequent times have been more quiet, but each time I get some version of this pushback:

Look, I understand this point of view. You can, and many have, debated the business merits of paywalls for media companies such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch (yes, they over-thought the hell of their domain name). I think paywalls can and do work well, but it’s only viable for the big national sources and it doesn’t make business sense for regional news sources, but I understand why their employees might disagree.

What I can’t understand, and it’s the same reason why I keep testing their paywall every time they roll out a new version, is why they keep implementing their supposedly critical business solution is such a crappy way at a technical level.

To review, every single paywall has been implemented entirely on the client side. The first version was based off of a meta tag, and the most recent version was done primarily in CSS. It is even a paywall at that point? You’re requesting the article with their browser and they are giving the whole thing to you, but then they hide some of it…but you still have all of it sitting on your computer! This is akin to them giving out free newspapers with the last few sections stapled together unless you pay for it. All I did was leave a staple remover on the table. If your media business is struggling to survive you should come up with something stronger than a staple to keep your business together.

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