Political Animal


March 18, 2013 4:12 PM Here Comes Paid WaPo!

By Ed Kilgore

It’s been rumored to be on the way for many months and even years, but it seems paying for unlimited digital access to the Washington Post is finally happening this summer, according to the rather authoritative source of WaPo itself, in a piece by Steven Mufson in the Business section today. Based (I am guessing) on the success of the New York Times’ “metered” model (allowing a limited number of visits to the site before a subscription would be necessary), that’s where WaPo’s headed:

This summer, The Washington Post will start charging frequent users of its Web site, asking those who look at more than 20 articles or multimedia features a month to pay a fee, although the company has not yet decided how much it will charge.
The paper said, however, that it would exempt large parts of its audience from having to pay the fees. Its home-delivery subscribers will have free access to all of The Post’s digital products, and students, teachers, school administrators, government employees and military personnel will have unlimited access to the Web site while in their schools and workplaces.

Not bloggers, though.

Access to The Post’s home page, section front pages and classified ads will not be limited.

The article contains a data point I wasn’t familiar with: 90% of the Post’s online audience lives outside the Washington area. So not too many current heavy users are going to go for the combo platter print and online subscription.

I managed to “just say no” when the Wall Street Journal set up its paywall (which is all-or-nothing, not the “metered” approach); most of the content I’d use drifts online for free after a day, and it’s not like the Journal’s editorials or Peggy Noonan’s columns are immediate must-reads, unless you need a quick laugh.

But if you are a news-cycle blogger, the Times (to which I succumbed after a brief experiment in trying to get by with free visits) and WaPo are indispensable. So I’ll be ponying up the bucks out of my own pocket.

If, as is extremely likely to be the case, the practice spreads, many of us will just become more discriminating readers. I was recently challenged by the Macon (GA) Telegraph to cough up subscription money or lose access to their UGA sports blogger, the only item I’d ever read there. Lose access I did.

Readers are welcome to register their thoughts on the slow-motion riot of paywalls and meters for online content in the comment thread—still free, and sometimes a free-for-all.

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.


  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 18, 2013 4:27 PM:

    Paywalls definitely make me a more discriminating reader. Most of what's on the net is hot air and blather.

    But I do think I have a cute way to get around the limit. I just visit the site from different computers: the work 'puter, the home 'puter, dad's 'puter, my smart phone, my Kindle, etc...

    Captcha says: eistini proceed. That's right!

  • fostert on March 18, 2013 4:36 PM:

    I wonder how this will affect their readership. I only read the Washington Post because the New York Times costs money. But if the Washington Post charges too, I'll just ending paying for the New York Times.

  • Peter C on March 18, 2013 4:42 PM:

    I found I could live without the NY Times. I'll bet I can live without the Washington Post, too. The heck with them.

  • max on March 18, 2013 5:09 PM:

    Readers are welcome to register their thoughts on the slow-motion riot of paywalls and meters for online content in the comment thread—still free, and sometimes a free-for-all.

    If the FT didn't cost so much I'd just pay for that instead. As it is, I get the fishwrap paper on paper, so I'll use that. They already make you login anyways, which is why I rarely use the web site except for Ezra & Greg. (The odd part is, is that I only read the fishwrap paper when I want to know what the high muckety-muck conservatives (that is, 'centrists') want, so I actually haven't read the fishwrap paper on paper recently either.

    If I read the NYT I know most of what I want to know about what's going on in the US, and then I can read the BBC (and/or the Guardian and/or the Independent and/or sometimes the FT depending on how annoying their paywall is that day) to find out what's going on the other 98% of the planet.

    ['Some day that this will all end well.']

  • c u n d gulag on March 18, 2013 5:13 PM:

    The problem is, that rather that charging some small amount for ANY and EVERY article or column you want to read, they want to charge people a flat sum.

    Frankly, like the NY Times, the WaPo's journalism has deteriorated to the point where I'd rather read McClatchy, and their pundit's are mostly unreadable.

    I carefully negotiate the NY Times site, so that I can read Paul Krugman twice a week.
    And, as much as I love Dionne and Robinson, they're not worth putting money into Fred Hiatt's, and the publishers, pockets.

  • Ken in Madrid on March 18, 2013 5:32 PM:

    The Washington Monthly, The NY Times and any other content provider you might value are not charitable organizations, they're businesses with payrolls and many other expenses. You want a BigMac, you pay for it. Why is access to information any different? Yeah, I know. You've been getting it for free, so why pay for it? Well, people did it with water, didn't they?

    I resisted the NYT pay wall for a while, and then realized that $15 a month was actually a damned good deal. I value all of the WM, but especially Ed's blog, so I'll happily fork up a few bucks for access (and to help ensure the WM's continued existence).

    And Ed, give me a break. You're a major content provider to the WM. There's no way you're going to have to be "ponying up the bucks out of my own pocket" for access to WM.

  • Geds on March 18, 2013 5:40 PM:

    Um, Ken in Madrid, the Washington Monthly is a completely different beast from the Washington Post. The WaPo is the one that's charging, not the Monthly.

    Don't worry, though, I did a double-take on that one, too.

  • JM917@gmail.com on March 18, 2013 6:01 PM:

    The NYT digital subscription is worth its (still) relatively modest cost. So is the WSJ, if you need to follow the economic and financial news, and it does have important coverage of some international news that beats the NYT to the punch. (The WSJ is worthless for editorial commentary, but of course I'm a liberal).

    The WaPo, IMHO, no longer offers sufficiently good journalism and commentary to make it worth the cost of a second (or third, if you include the WSJ) digital subscription. Sadly, that might mean missing some of Ezra's or Dionne's columns or blogs. But that's the story of the eevisceration of a once-great newspaper.

    I won't be signing up.

  • Don SinFalta on March 18, 2013 6:09 PM:

    Back in the previous century I had a 7 day paper subscription to the Times, but their behavior during the oughts cured me of that (except for Krugman). I've never gotten much from the WaPo (I read Ezra and Sargent more before they moved there), and I've never been willing to patronize any Murdoch paper, so all of them are pretty much dead to me, a once prolific consumer of paid news media. I guess I'm just another bellweather of the demise of the US news biz. If it were worth anything, I'd pay them for it.

  • Ken in Madrid on March 18, 2013 6:22 PM:

    Um, Geds.

    Maybe you should pay a little closer attention. I never mentioned the WaPo, which I think we both disrespect.

    Ed's blog talks about the WM charging for access, not the WaPo. Why is this so difficult for you to understand?

  • Keith on March 18, 2013 6:23 PM:

    It better be priced right.
    I pay $36 a year for Pandora's higher quality commercial free music service. WaPo will be competing with that value proposition. A service I listen to for hours a day, at my desk, in my car, on my ipad, on my walks, and my son also listens to it on his device.
    I read WaPo 20 minutes a night. I think that math works out to be a lot less than $36. Sorry. Price it right and I won't might paying.

  • Anonymous on March 18, 2013 6:32 PM:

    Ungh, typo.
    I meant "Price it right and I won't mind paying."

    I think the right price is $1 a month; Again, sorry.
    Hopefully you "can make it up in volume".

  • John on March 18, 2013 9:03 PM:

    Everyone knows that you can look at every article on the New York Times website for free even after you've used up your monthly quota just by removing some gobbledygook from the end of the url, right?

  • somethingblue on March 18, 2013 10:01 PM:

    Ed in Madrid: What on earth are you talking about?

    Actual Ed: I've never read the Macon (GA) Telegraph's sports blogger, but I'm willing to bet s/he's a better use of your dollars than the Washington Post.

  • EndTheEcho on March 18, 2013 11:12 PM:

    As John said, you can delete that extra link info. Or you can clear your cache and history, and you start the clock over. Works for NYT and Minneapolis Star and Tribune. Which has a paywall similar to NYT.

  • Rich on March 18, 2013 11:13 PM:

    WaPo indesepensible? Perhaps if you want to be infuriated by Jennifer Rubin or the waxworks of tired old characters like Will and Krauthammer. They outsource business function but keep useless scribblers around like Chuck Lane and Robert Samuelson around. The Post has long been useless as a local paper and the paper's much discussed but largely insubstantial effort to expand coverage is at odds with building revenue from a national audience. It's feature sections are, at best mixed and watching the deterioration of Ezra Klein is something I can happily avoid. The best thing we can do is starve the beast and let the Post go broke on its own bloat rather than keep a generally deteriorating paper in business.

  • istiak on March 19, 2013 12:00 AM:

    Good post..

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  • Bonnie on March 19, 2013 12:47 AM:

    WaPo isn't must read any more, IMHO. I lived in the area for many years until I retired from the government and moved back to my home town in Washington, the state. I stopped my subscription in 2004 because I found it to be nothing but a rightwing rag. The only time I read any thing from it is when it is quoted in a blog. I don't miss it and don't feel uninformed by not reading it. After Katherine Graham died, it went down hill so fast it made my head spin. Of course, it did have the best comics pages around; but, you can even find those on the internet, too.

  • Ken in Madrid on March 19, 2013 4:42 AM:

    My apologies, Ed and Geds. My bad.

  • Hyde on March 19, 2013 4:54 AM:

    I echo what a lot of you are saying: it hurts to say this because the Post was my favorite newspaper for a long, long time (I first started reading it daily in 1976), but if I had to choose one online subscription, it would be that of the Times, which doesn't insult my intelligence with rampant tired op-ed hackery. I'm sure I haven't hit up the Post's site more than 20 times in a month since the election, so this shouldn't crimp my online style much.

  • Richard Fox on March 19, 2013 7:51 AM:

    Here's my idea: I'm perfectly happy to pay for online content. I would prefer to do this in the same way that I pay for cable TV content. That is, by allowing a portion of what I pay to my internet provider go to the major content providers. I haven't done the math, but I'm guessing that a few cents per page or per minute would get them as much as they get from subscriptions. It's much fairer, and you wouldn't have to make all these all-or-nothing decisions. In practice, the Internet providers would probably bump up their monthly fees a little rather than passing on the exact amount each person used.

  • Goliath on March 19, 2013 1:22 PM:

    Everyone knows that you can look at every article on the New York Times website for free even after you've used up your monthly quota just by removing some gobbledygook from the end of the url, right?

    This no longer works for me. Anyone experience that?