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Paywalls and Payment Systems

Summary and Keywords

Funding of journalism has become a critical part of journalism and digital journalism studies because no single business model has emerged to solve revenue problems for print and digital news outlets. Despite newspapers’ efforts to expand their income sources, they have remained print reliant in terms of revenue. In 2017, approximately 80% of global news publishers’ revenue still came from print products. While some large news corporations such as The New York Times Co. and News Corp have reported substantial increases in their digital subscription numbers, revenue from subscriptions and digital advertising has not been substantial enough to fund their newsroom structures and journalism. In this context, academia has started to produce more research on news payment systems. Recent studies of payment systems have largely concentrated on people’s willingness to pay for news. Academic researchers have also studied paywall models, content, and revenue. Additionally, crowdfunding as a source of revenue for news has been investigated, and the research on membership models is expanding. Most of the studies about news payment systems have concluded that none of the news payment systems—including paywalls, micropayments, donations, and memberships—is (on its own) sustainable for funding future journalism. Paywall can be understood as a subscription model that limits the public’s access to all or to some digital news content without a payment. Micropayments allow readers to pay per article or per view. Memberships allow the public to access certain content (premium content) or extra services such as events for a fee. Donations refer to the public’s voluntary monetary contributions to produce news articles or projects to the news sites. News publishers have become increasingly dependent on social media platforms such as Facebook for their content distribution. However, there is still very little academic research about news payment systems related to Facebook or other social media companies. This may well be because there is no transparent information about this kind of revenue as the news industry itself is not reporting on it.

Keywords: journalism, willingness to pay, paywalls, micropayments, crowdfunding, memberships, donations, social media, journalism studies

Funding of Journalism and Journalistic Institutions

This article investigates paywalls and other news payment systems and their ability to fund future journalism. It should be noted that the news payment systems are not set in stone; they are fluid and keep changing in response to audience and monetary demands. The news publishing industry itself keeps also evolving and continues to face substantial financial challenges. In November 2017, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp, captured the mood of the newspaper industry in his company’s annual general meeting. Murdoch noted that News Corp newspapers continued to be financially challenged because digital advertising has been “tremendously damaging to print” (Chapman, 2017). He added that News Corp. was “struggling” and had its hands full in “making our existing papers viable” (Chapman, 2017). At the same time, the troubles of digital media start-ups were highlighted in the media suggesting that problems in the digital media market were widespread. The Wall Street Journal reported that digital publisher BuzzFeed would miss its full-year revenue target “signaling that the digital advertising market was proving hard for digital media start-ups” (Sharma & Alpert, 2017). Therefore, it is not surprising that the revenue models of print and digital news companies have started to attract more interest from academia as well as from the media, although Picard observes that “the business of journalism is an uncomfortable subject to many journalists” (Picard, 2017b, p. 147). Hardy believes that the question of funding journalism and its future has become an area of interest not just for the economists but also for the academics approaching the topic from the critical political economy point of view (Hardy, 2016). Yet news revenue models are relatively poorly researched in the journalism studies. To exemplify, in 2017 only 2% of the 150 papers presented at the Future of Journalism conference at Cardiff University were about the business of news (Nielsen, 2017).

When debating the funding of journalism, a clear distinction between journalism and journalistic institutions should be made to aid understanding of what actually is funded, how and by whom, and also what kind of journalism is supported by different funding models. Journalism is about the practices that are based on information verification and accuracy, and it is carried out by professional journalists who are “embracing the practices in a variety of digital forms” (Picard, 2017b, p. 2). In contrast, the institutions of journalism are “the organised workplaces and labor settings in which journalism is practiced” (Picard, 2017b, p. 2). The institutions Picard refers to are commercial legacy media corporations such as News Corp, The New York Times Co., and Gannett who practice journalism in print and digital platforms. Thurman et al. (forthcoming) also believe that the fate of newspaper institutions needs to be considered separately from the journalism that is produced (Thurman et al., forthcoming). Most often the discussion about the funding of journalism refers to the “institutions of journalism,” but journalism is also practiced outside these institutional settings. In the current media environment, journalism is practiced by multiple independent media outlets, nonprofits, cooperatives, and individuals that are partly or completely funded by crowds and voluntary donations. Therefore, the payment systems discussed and examined in this article maybe utilized by those who practice journalism either in the institutional setting or outside it. Researchers have observed some differences in the funding of legacy media organizations and digital native media outlets. Cornia et al. (2017) found that the majority of newspaper publishers in Europe had some sort of paid model for their digital content whereas most of the digital native media outlets offered their content for free.

There is no doubt that news publishers are transitioning from a print to a digital environment even though this transformation is proving hard. The growth in digital subscriptions in some markets is signaling a change in reader habits and willingness to pay, but other markets are more resistant. A 2015 study of the leading Japanese newspapers revealed that the number of their digital subscriptions was low because publishers prioritized their print papers, and digital news sites were only seen as complementary (Villi & Hayashi, 2015). In some other mature newspaper markets, developments have been somewhat different and in 2016 alone a number of newspapers in the United States and Europe saw a strong increase in their digital subscriptions numbers thanks to the United States presidential election and Brexit. In 2016, the New York Times added more than 500,000 digital subscriptions and the Wall Street Journal more than 150,000 digital subscriptions because of a “Trump bump” (Barthel, 2017). Again, in 2017 several publishers including The New York Times Company, News Corp, Axel Springer, Sanoma, Financial Times Group, and Schibsted reported strong growth in digital subscriptions and related revenue. Despite these increases, news publishers’ ability to monetize digital news content has not been as successful as anticipated (Myllylahti, 2017). Perhaps this is because willingness to pay for the general news content has remained low, or rather because the print newspaper as a product is still dominating revenue and readership. Multiple academic papers and reports have examined people’s paying intent and willingness to pay for digital news. Most of them have come to the same conclusion—willingness to pay has remained poor (Chyi, 2012; Kammer et al., 2015; Newman, Fletcher, Kalogeropoulos, Levy, & Nielsen, 2017). In 2017, a report by Newman et al. (2017) found that 84% of the people in 36 countries surveyed had not paid for any kind of digital news (pp. 23–24). However, paying habits as well the reasons for paying somewhat differ across countries. Interestingly, in 2017, 29% of those surveyed in the United States stated that they were paying for online news because they wanted “to help fund journalism” (Newman et al., 2017, pp. 23–24).

While news publishers’ organizational structures, news production, and delivery have changed considerably in the past two decades, they are still unable to “fully exploit digital operations and succeed in the digital space” (Picard, 2017b, p. 6). Thurman et al. (forthcoming) agree by concluding that digital-first strategies of news publishers have failed to reverse their falling revenues. Picard believes that news publishers have not moved away from the product logic as they primarily see news content as a product or a good to be sold to the masses or to the customers, and this has become a barrier for their digital revenue creation (Picard, 2017a). He suggests that newspapers need to adopt service logic to build relationships, especially with their core readers, if they want to advance digital readership and related earnings. In 2016, 80% of newspaper revenue still came from the print product (Thurman et al., forthcoming). The figure from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers is even higher. It estimates that in 2017, print’s share of the total global newspaper revenue was 91.6% (WAN-IFRA, 2017, p. 7). It should be noted that in some markets, such as in India, print circulation and revenue are increasing whereas in Oceania, Europe, and the United States, print circulation and related revenue are rapidly declining (WAN-IFRA, 2017). In their study, Chyi and Tenenboim (2017) found that in the United States print newspapers still reach more readers than digital products. Print newspapers have remained “the core product in the local market, without a single exception, reaching far more readers than the online edition across all age groups” (Chyi & Tenenboim, 2017, p. 811). Additionally, a study of 11 national daily newspapers in the United Kingdom showed that the readers spent more time with the print than online editions (Thurman, 2017). This high dependency on print has come with a cost as both print advertising and circulation revenue has continued to decline. In the United States alone, print-advertising revenue fell 63% from 2006 to 2016, and the total circulation fell 33% over the same period (Pew, 2017). Therefore, it is easy to understand why news publishers have introduced new tools and systems to monetize on their digital news.

The following sections will investigate what kind of payment systems are employed by the media companies. It should be noted that the news payment systems differ between news organizations and countries. For example, subscription models are widely accepted in countries such as Denmark and the United States whereas the use of micropayments is higher in Brazil, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The payment systems analyzed here don’t include events, ticket sales, or advertising as the scope of the article is limited. As Carson and Muller (2017) have observed, media companies operating in the digital age use a “hybrid model” to finance their journalism, meaning that they have one or two sources of revenue (p. 35). These include advertising and hosting events.

Paywalls

Paywall is a subscription model for digital news content or a virtual “barrier between an internet user and a news organisation’s online content” (Pickard & Williams, 2014, p. 195). More precisely, it refers to a “subscription model which limits the public’s access to all or to some digital news content, if no fee is paid” (Myllylahti, 2017, p. 166). The first paywall in the newspaper industry was introduced in the 1990s. The Wall Street Journal implemented a hard paywall for its online content in 1997. Ten years later, in 2007, the Financial Times became the first newspaper to launch a metered paywall model (Myllylahti, 2014). As a term, paywall became more commonly used in media and academia after 2010 when newspapers started to charge for their online content as their print advertising revenue had dramatically started to decline. By 2016, 78% of American newspapers with a circulation over 50,000 had a digital subscription model, and of those 63% had a metered model (Williams, 2016). Similarly, in 2017, 66% of the newspapers in six European markets operated a pay model, and a freemium paywall was the most widely used paywall (Cornia et al., 2017, para. 4). Cornia et al. (2017) found that tabloid newspapers, digital native news outlets, and broadcasters continued to offer free access to their digital news—54% of the 171 major news outlets studied did not charge for their digital news content (2017, para. 10). The fact that the public has continued to have access to multiple digital channels without a payment makes monetizing digital news harder, especially for general newspapers that have introduced a paywall.

Academic studies have identified different paywall models as hard and soft models and paywalls as hard, metered, and freemium paywalls (Carson, 2015; Cornia et al., 2017; Myllylahti, 2014; Pickard & Williams, 2014; Sjøvaag, 2015). Some researchers have given paywalls new labels such as “a leaky paywall” because newspapers have allowed readers to circumvent digital subscriptions by allowing them to access their content via social media or search engines without a fee (Stulberg, 2017). A hard paywall requires readers to pay a fee for all content; nothing is offered for free. A soft paywall refers to a digital subscription model that allows readers to access some news content without paying. A metered paywall is a soft paywall model, and it is the type most commonly used by the publishers. It typically lets people read 5–10 articles a month without a payment. A freemium paywall is also a soft paywall model: It allows readers to access certain news content for free, but the premium content—such as hard news, opinion pieces, sports, or analysis—is behind a paywall.

So far, the academic research on paywalls has concentrated on two main topics: paywall revenue and paywalled content, and the work has been based on case studies and document analysis. The early researchers exploring paywall income have compared paywall models of different newspaper companies and the revenue created by them. They all have concluded that paywalls do not, on their own, provide a sustainable business model for newspapers in the short term (Carson, 2015; Myllylahti, 2014; Pickard & Williams, 2014). A study following on from these—a comparative analysis of seven large news publishers in the United States, Europe, and Australasia—found that news publishers have gained in digital subscriptions and revenue. However, it also observed that the income derived from the digital subscriptions was not enough to fund publishers’ journalistic operations (Myllylahti, 2017). The study states that “if newspapers were funded by paywall income alone, they could only sustain substantially smaller newsrooms” (Myllylahti, 2017, p. 173).

Studies of paywalled content have varied somewhat in their approach, but they have all been based on the content analysis, and their findings support each other. Content analysis studies have found that paywalled newspapers offer news sourced from newswires and syndicates for free whereas the most valuable content such as hard news, financial news, politics, and opinion pieces is hidden behind a paywall (Kvalheim, 2014; Myllylahti, 2016; Sjøvaag, 2015). These findings are relevant to the debate concerning journalism and its role in a democratic society. If news that (based on news values) is determined newsworthy and in the public interest is hidden behind a paywall, citizens may be less informed about issues that help them participate in a democratic society. Another study by Brandstetter and Schmalhofer (2014) of the online business section of Die Welt found that its paywalled content offered little value to the readers as the same content was freely available elsewhere. News publishers themselves have argued that paywalls are necessary to help maintain their newsrooms and journalistic jobs, and that they aid high-quality news content. However, these claims can be contested, and there is evidence that newsrooms have kept shrinking despite the introduction of paywalls (Myllylahti, 2017). Journalists themselves have said that digital subscriptions aid quality content as it requires them to deliver original news and unique content, otherwise people would not pay for it. For example, Victoria Young, a journalist for the National Business Review in New Zealand, says that paywalls compel journalists “to work harder to come up with quality journalism, because you can’t put a press release behind a paywall” (Myllylahti, 2016, p. 9). The journalist explains that the editors of the paper make decisions about which stories are for the subscribers only after journalists tell them what exclusive and original material their stories have (Myllylahti, 2016). The reporter’s statements suggest that journalistic values and normal editorial practices guide paywall decisions and that commercial values don’t automatically override journalistic values, and this is also supported by Kvalheim’s 2014 study. However, this is clearly an area requiring further research. It would be useful to explore if claims of the quality and originality of paywalled articles are true and to what extent.

Micropayments

Micropayments are a relatively new part of the news payment system. They typically allow readers to purchase an article or pay-per-view, and therefore they have been described as an iTunes model for the news. Mostly, pay-per-article systems are used in parallel with other pay methods, and they are utilized by the papers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. A typical payment for a pay-per-view news article is 10 to 30 cents (Myllylahti, 2016). One of the leading micropayment system providers for journalism is Dutch Blendle, which in August 2016 had one million account holders (Klöpping, 2016). Some other companies have emerged to offer micropayments for news providers including Invisibly, LaterPay, Scroll, Inkl, and Tapview. In 2016 Alexander Klöpping, co-founder of Blendle, was hailed as a “Dutch tech whiz who could save the journalism” (Spence & Pompeo, 2016). Klöpping believes that the micropayment system can become successful as more young people are willing to pay for articles: “the largest chunk of our users is now 30 years old” (Klöpping, 2016). In contrast, academics note that “it is hard to envision that pay-per-article systems would replace monthly subscriptions” (Myllylahti, 2016, p. 172). Media academic Jane Singer agrees, stating that the funding model is not “the most desirable” for the news companies, which need stable revenue streams to support their journalism and journalistic operations (Singer, 2016).

Micropayments have been relatively poorly researched in academia, perhaps because they are still emerging and evolving. In 2007, research by Mensing found that 44% of the online news managers surveyed in the United States did not regard micropayments as their future revenue model (Mensing, 2007, p. 30). Ten years later, in 2017, Bleyen and Van Hove examined pay systems of 82 national newspapers in eight Western markets. Their study found that news publishers preferred subscription models over micropayments, and that newspapers had only “embraced pay-per-view only half-heartedly” (Bleyen & Van Hove, 2007, para. 1).

Crowdfunding

As newsrooms have shrunk, the pool of journalists working outside the “journalistic institutions” has grown, and many journalists fund their stories and projects directly from the public. This is called crowdfunding, which is a subtype of crowdsourcing (Aitamurto, 2017). Aitamurto defines that journalists “harness the crowd’s knowledge for journalism” through crowdsourcing whereas crowdfunding “channels the crowd’s resources to journalism as funding” (2017, p. 185). Similar definitions have been used by Jian and Usher (2014) and Sirkkunen and Cook (2012). Aitamurto lists four types of crowdfunding to support journalism: single story funding, funding for continuous coverage of an issue, financing a new platform or publication, or fundraising service supporting journalism (Aitamurto, 2017, p. 188). Of these, the first type is the most commonly used. By September 2015, 658 journalism-related projects on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform received nearly US$6.3 million of funding on the platform (Vogt & Mitchell, 2016, para. 2). In a seven-year period from 2009 to 2015, 71% of the crowdfunded projects were produced by individuals, not “journalistic institutions” (Vogt & Mitchell, 2016, para. 7). Vogt and Mitchell observe that crowdfunding is “bringing voice and visibility to efforts that would likely otherwise go unnoticed or unfunded” (2017, para. 10).

In academia, crowdfunding as a payment system has not been widely researched. One of the most prominent researchers in this area is Aitamurto, but the focus of her research has been in the relationships between crowdsourcing and journalism rather than in the funding model itself. She notes that “while crowdfunding in journalism has become increasingly common, there is a growing need to examine the role of crowdfunding as a business model in journalism” (2015, p. 190). Aitamurto argues that those readers who donate money for journalistic pieces or projects are more committed to journalists than those who don’t invest their own money in production. Journalists regard donors as investors, and this creates “a new sense of responsibility to the journalists” because they aim not to disappoint their investors (2011, p. 429). Similarly, Carvajal et al. (2012) believe that crowdfunding aids journalism by allowing citizens to participate in creating journalistic content (Carvajal et al., 2012, p. 645). A more recent study by Ladson and Lee (2017), which uses the Byline platform as a case study, explores theoretical and empirical links between crowdfunding and economic viability of journalism. Their study found that journalism that covers nonpublic affairs, such as government policies and decisions, is more likely to receive crowdfunding and to achieve funding goals (Ladson & Lee, 2017, p. 156). This is interesting and contrasts with some of the paywall studies suggesting that the public is paying for hard news, analysis, and opinion pieces. However, the findings are similar to a study by Jian and Usher (2014) who analyzed the crowdfunded journalism website Spot.us to explore how pay models may impact on journalism. They found that the people donating to the site preferred “specific news topics that are of immediate utility to them in daily living” rather than news about public affairs (Jian & Usher, 2014, p. 165). Their study suggests that the news values between donors and journalists may differ, potentially complicating a donation-based funding model. The longevity of crowdfunding as a funding mechanism is still questionable because multiple start-ups depending on this funding type have failed, including Spot.us; Beacon Reader; and Contributoria, which was backed by The Guardian newspaper. Additionally, Vogt and Mitchell observe that “the journalism projects produced, and revenue gained from these crowdfunded ventures is still a drop in the bucket” (Vogt & Mitchell, 2016, para. 9).

Donations and Memberships

Donations and memberships are linked to crowdfunding as these models require the public to pay for journalism. Typically, nonprofit and new digital-only media outlets finance their journalism from their readers and supporters by voluntary donations or by offering them memberships. In late 2017, it seemed that the public started to be more willing to make monetary contributions to certain media outlets or their projects. However, trends and patterns differ between the countries. For example, in 2017, donations to the news sites tripled in the United States and Australia (Newman et al., 2017, pp. 23–24).

Memberships allow the public to access news content and extra services such as events. Donations are the public’s voluntary monetary contributions that are either paid for the news sites or to the certain journalistic projects. New platforms, such as the New Zealand based start-up, PressPatron, have emerged to aid donations for journalism. PressPatron helps readers to donate to news outlets without leaving the site. According to the company’s founder Alex Clark, an average one-time contribution to journalistic sites via the platform is approximately US$34 and the average recurring contribution US$7.80 (Alex Clark, personal communication, August 25, 2017). Memberships as a news payment system have garnered little academic research as yet, but the Membership Puzzle Project is aiming to fill the gap in this research. The project is a collaboration between the Dutch news site De Correspondent and Jay Rosen from New York University, and it has identified 100 news sites with membership programs. These included sites such as ProPublica, Slate, The Atlantic, and Voice of San Diego. However, a number of the sites listed by the project use mixed payment systems including memberships, donations, and subscriptions. Rosen and Del Peon believe that memberships differ from subscriptions and donations because people are more engaged with news sites and their journalism. They note that people who buy memberships “believe in the importance of the work being done,” they don’t just donate money or subscribe to a service (2017, para. 4). In November 2017, De Correspondent had 60,000 paying members—membership costing six euros per month (De Correspondent, 2017). In October 2017, The Guardian, which launched its membership program in 2014, had 300,000 paying members to support its open access journalism (Burrell, 2017). Additionally, approximately 300,000 individuals had made a single donation for the paper, and most of the donations came from the United States (Burrell, 2017).

Payments From Facebook

News publishers have become increasingly dependent on social media platforms for news delivery. This has made it more difficult for them to monetize digital news content. In 2016, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report surveyed people across 26 countries and found that 51% of those surveyed used social media as a news source each week. Additionally, 1 in 10 cited social media as their main source of news (Newman et al., 2016). News corporations do not report on their social media revenue, and there is no transparent information about social media-related earnings. The academic literature is lacking in research related to social media payment systems although some academic and industry reports offer general findings related to social media revenue (Bell & Owen, 2017; Piechota, 2016). In 2013, a paper by Ju, Jeong, and Chyi (2013) examined newspapers’ print and web traffic from social media platforms and concluded that from “the media economics perspective, the effectiveness of newspapers’ social media strategy remains questionable” (Ju et al., 2013, p. 12). The paper offered no evidence that social media sites and the traffic from these platforms would generate more subscriptions and revenue for newspapers. In 2016, Facebook opened its Instant Articles, which allows publishers to deliver their content fast on mobile platforms, to all publishers. Publishers keep 100% of the revenue they generate from the adverts on Instant Articles platform (Piechota, 2016, p. 65). Additionally, publishers can incorporate adverts from the Facebook audience network and this allows them to keep 70% of that revenue (Piechota, 2016). So far there is no academic research of the monetization of Facebook traffic or shares, and therefore evaluation of social media-related payments and their sustainability is a challenge that academic researchers should embrace. A 2017 report by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers stated that “with Facebook, news publishers find themselves in a complex relationship which is at least partly mutually beneficial” (WAN-IFRA, 2017, p. 48). However, Facebook made only 7% of the news publishers digital revenue, and 26% of the publishers surveyed did not have any revenue from Facebook (WAN-IFRA, 2017, p. 48). Bell and Owen are right to state that “if the monetisation of material given to social platforms by news organisations does not improve, it will exacerbate the crisis in sustainable journalism” (2017, p. 54). News payment systems between Facebook and news publishers keep evolving, and it is impossible to predict how monetization on the social media platform may look in the future. In October 2017, Facebook started testing paywall on the social media platform with 10 publishers, including The Economist, The Washington Post, The Telegraph, and Bild. The platform was testing metered and freemium paywalls with Facebook directing readers directly to the publishers’ websites, allowing them to keep 100% of the revenue obtained by the subscription (Teppe, 2017). At the time of writing it was not known how well this trial worked for the publishers. More importantly, in January 2018 Facebook tweaked its News Feed algorithm, which prioritizes friends and family’s posts over news companies content. Immediately after the change, traffic from Facebook to news publishers websites fell 6%, and it may continue to decline (Moses, 2018). Another recent development should be observed. In October 2017, Google ended its “first click free policy,” which has allowed people to read up to three stories a day for free via Google News. The move is aimed to support news publishers’ paywalls and digital subscription numbers.

Evaluation

So far, research about contemporary news payment systems has concentrated on three key areas: people’s willingness to pay for digital news, paywalls. and crowdfunding. Most academic studies and reports about people’s willingness to pay for general news content have come to the same conclusion: People are not willing to pay for general news, although younger people are becoming more interested in paying for digital news content. The most prominent paywall studies have drawn a similar kind of conclusion: On their own, digital subscriptions are not a sustainable business model for news publishers. Pickard and Williams note that “the evidence thus far does not bode well for the paywall model as an American newspaper industry savior” (2014, p. 13).

The studies mentioned in this article about paywalled news content show that news publishers regard hard news and opinion pieces as their most valuable content, and this content has been paywalled. However, we know very little about the quality of paywalled content or how paywalls may affect editorial and managerial decisions, newsroom practices, and journalistic work. Crowdfunding research has mainly investigated the performance of crowdfunding platforms and journalists’ ability to raise funds from these platforms. The research suggests that crowdfunding platforms may aid funding of certain journalistic projects, but the longevity of the platforms continues to be a concern and needs to be evaluated.

While studying news payment systems, most researchers have utilized case studies to investigate these, and multiple studies have compared models across news publishers, countries, and continents. Researchers have used both quantitative and qualitative research methods and conducted content or document analysis to investigate. In general, it can be observed that the research in this field has been quite descriptive and has lacked in theoretical and conceptual grounding. Hardy notes that media business research,

provides insights into the economics and management of digital journalism but offers limited articulation across the full range of dimensions that media studies grapples with: economic, political, organisational, practice-based, ethical, symbolic, social and cultural. (2016, p. 20)

Perhaps the research is lacking in theoretical framing because digital journalism has only recently emerged as an independent field of journalism studies and inquiry, and digital news payment systems are linked to this nascent field. Some scholarship has approached news revenue models from the critical political economy of communication perspective, and it can offer “a suitable framework” for study in the field. The approach allows researchers to consider ownership and market structures, concepts such as news commodification, as well as moral and ethical issues related to pay systems and journalism (Myllylahti, 2016). In general, paywall studies have raised concerns about paywalls in the context of public sphere principles and the public’s ability to participate in a democratic society. Early paywall studies, for example, have argued that paywalls may hinder the public’s participation in democratic processes. However, some studies may offer evidence against this view. A study by Ananny and Bighash (2016) offers an example. The researchers investigated why some of the leading American newspapers decommodified their paywalled content by providing the public with free access to it in some instances. They found that news publishers dropped their paywall—offered free access to their digital news content—when they believed that it was clearly in the public interest. The paywalls came down in the crisis situations or if the publishers believed that the non-crisis-related content was necessary for informing the public (Ananny & Bighash, 2016, p. 3370). On these occasions, journalistic and news values became more important than the commercial logic, and they override commercial values. Academia would benefit from more studies exploring how editorial and managerial decisions are interlinked to the different pay systems and how the different pay models are interconnected with journalistic principles and news values.

Further Reading

Aitamurto, T. (2015). The role of crowdfunding as a business model of journalism: A model for value creation. In B. Chin, L. Bennett, & B. Jones (Eds.). Crowdfunding the future: Media industries, ethics and digital society (pp. 189–205). New York, NY: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

    Myllylahti, M. (2017). Newspaper paywalls and corporate revenues: A comparative study. In B. Franklin & S. Eldridge II (Eds.), The Routledge companion to digital journalism studies. (pp. 166–175). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.Find this resource:

      Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Kalogeropoulos, A., Levy, D. A., & Nielsen, R. K. (2017). Digital news report 2017. Oxford, UK: Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism.Find this resource:

        Thurman, N., Picard, R. G., Myllylahti, M., & Krumsvik, A. (forthcoming). On digital distribution’s failure to solve newspapers’ existential crisis: Symptoms, causes, consequences and remedies. In S. A. Eldridge II & B. Franklin (Eds.), Routledge handbook of developments in digital journalism studies. London, UK: Routledge.Find this resource:

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            Aitamurto, T. (2015). The role of crowdfunding as a business model of journalism: A model for value creation. In B. Chin, L. Bennett, & B. Jones (Eds.), Crowdfunding the future: Media industries, ethics and digital society (pp. 189–205). New York, NY: Peter LangFind this resource:

              Aitamurto, T. (2017). Crowdsourcing in open journalism. Benefits, challenges, and value creation. In B. Franklin & S. Eldridge II (Eds.), The Routledge companion to digital journalism studies (pp. 185–193). London, UK: Routledge.Find this resource:

                Albenau, C. (2015, September 2). Contributoria closes, team still sees future for crowdfunding. Journalism.co.uk.Find this resource:

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