Political Animal


December 07, 2012 1:13 PM The WaPo Paywall Cometh

By Ed Kilgore

It’s hardly a big surprise, but it’s still with a sense of foreboding that I read this signal-of-future-intentions from the Washington Post:

The Washington Post will probably start charging online readers for access to newspaper articles in the middle of next year, a person familiar with the plans said.

This lede sounds pretty weird coming from Washington Post reporter Steven Mufson; “a person familiar with the plans” is probably one of his bosses. But whatever:

Long reluctant to charge for online content, the newspaper is close to a decision to introduce digital subscriptions and charge online readers once they surpass a certain number of articles or multimedia features a month, the person said. Access to the home page and section fronts would not be limited.
The model — known as a metered paywall — would be similar to that used by the New York Times, which started charging for online content in March 2011 and now has nearly 600,000 digital subscribers. The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have similar models.

Ah, yes, the big Times experiment. I didn’t know if had officially been declared a great success, but then I generally avoid stories about the evolution—or more often devolution—of the news industry like they were Signs of the Apocalypse.

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates offers an acute observation on this development:

I read the Post online enough to say that I would pay for this. Plus I’ve basically come around to the idea that content-providers will have to charge something. But putting yourself on the market cuts both ways, in that it rather quickly reveals what, precisely, consumers will pay for and what they won’t. The Times found that opinions were as numerous as middle fingers, and thus couldn’t really monetize it’s columnists. It’s reporting turned out to be another story.
The problem with the Post is that the paper has been so decimated that you wonder whether they still have a product they can sell. I wonder if the Post basically got it backwards—they tried to save by cutting, but in cutting damaged the product (and the brand), and now the Post is trying to get people pay a much less substantial product. It seems it would have been smarter to charge when you had something you knew you could charge for.
But there is the rub—no one knew. This wasn’t a Washington Post problem. It was an industry problem. We’re only slowly adopting to the idea of paying for information. They’ll likely be some casualties due to the tardiness.

That’s true. And I suspect the sound of approaching hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen are being heard here and there at WaPo.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • emjayay on December 07, 2012 1:29 PM:

    I can't figure out what The Atlanticacute is, but someone should explain the difference between its and it's to them. That's not a typo. It, as non-English major non-writer me sees every day, shows that people who apparently weren't paying attention in the third grade often end up being writers. Or just bloggers?

  • Eeyore on December 07, 2012 1:32 PM:

    I've been a subscriber to the (print) Post for years. It's gone way way way downhill in terms of content. We were about to ditch the print edition and read it online. This may change that. Or I may just dump it altogether.

  • estamm on December 07, 2012 1:44 PM:

    When I was regularly going to 538 at the NYTimes before the election, I often ran up against the 'you've now read your 10 allowed views this month. You must subscribe to read more' (or something like that). I just deleted my cookies and read what I wished. I also tried the 'start private browsing' in Firefox. That worked too.

  • AndrewBW on December 07, 2012 1:50 PM:

    In other newspaper news, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is looking to cut their losses. Although there haven't been any official announcements yet, rumor is that they're considering layoffs and/or a reduced print schedule of perhaps three days.

  • sjw on December 07, 2012 1:52 PM:

    I used to read WaPo regularly. Then when Froomkin left, I wavered; the stupid conservatism of the editorials pushed me further; ibid. for the ridiculous comments of the clueless ombudsman. Finally, I just stopped. Except for Ezra Klein's blog, I don't even go there any more. (Apologies to Eugene Robinson and EJ Dionne et al.)

  • Le Neveu on December 07, 2012 1:54 PM:

    Just so long as they don't sell it to Murdoch.

  • c u n d gulag on December 07, 2012 2:06 PM:

    Too bad they decided not to do that earlier this year.

    Mitt would have funneled in millions for Charles Douchnozzle's and Jennifer Rubin's election "coverage."

  • Alan Tomlinson on December 07, 2012 2:21 PM:

    I miss reading the Times but the Post is such a faint ghost of what it once was. And supporting Kaplan is not something I can get behind at all.


    Alan Tomlinson

  • deanarms on December 07, 2012 2:33 PM:

    I think micro-payments are the way to go. Content creators (and distributors) deserve to be paid.

  • Bandstring on December 07, 2012 2:34 PM:

    As with the NYT, paying and still suffering ads is just too much. If they want to sell (online) me their paper without ads, I would consider paying a reasonable fee. But ads plus subscription fees is insulting. There are just too many other sources.

  • rae on December 07, 2012 5:02 PM:

    I pay for the Times but I doubt I would pay for the Post. Maybe during election season, but that's pretty much it.

  • Crissa on December 07, 2012 5:18 PM:

    They should've had a subscription - and no pay wall - the whole time.

    Of course, whiny conservatives would have you believe this doesn't work, but in practice, if you have a valued product, it does.

  • Rich on December 07, 2012 11:48 PM:

    I quit my paid subscription to WaPo in 1991. It would be even easier to not subscribe online now. The national reporting and opinion have been deteriorating for yearns. The local coverage has long been a joke and one reason I dropped he Post in the 90s. The Post stIll exerts a pull on people of a chain age but circulation has been dropping for years and I wonder if they'll be successful in keying their older loyal reader. Warren Buffett should buy hepapr outright from the feckless Graham/Weymouth clan and find some professional managers to get rid of the dead wood and run a decent paper.

  • simulated annealing on December 08, 2012 2:58 AM:

    No one's going to mention the recent buyouts and predicted layoffs at the times? Their paywall may be staving off collapse but the paper is still in a downward spiral. I pay for the Financial Times online/Ipad. But I don't find any of the rest of our papers worth paying for.