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The paywall problem

By John ~ Friday, 10 August 2012

Finding a way to efficiently blog about design process as we go along is in itself a bit of challenge. So I’ve decided be less chronological and try out challenges and potential solutions instead. One of the big ones, we need a paywall.

Why have a paywall at all?

Probably a whole post in itself but suffice to say to support charitable campaigns, create, commission and produce high quality content costs money. The site as it is now has no adverts and that, as I understand it, is not set to change anytime soon. It feels to me like a good reason to have a paywall; not so everyone can get rich and buy an island but to fund the charity and its aims.

A proposed solution

To be honest, it’s a really tricky one. The Not Safe For Work Corporation is interesting, pay a small fee and you can find out what’s going on (which reminds me I really should remember to cancel that subscription… ahem). The Boston Globe take the approach of giving you a sense of the article but you have to subscribe to get the rest. The Times model is also quite interesting but feels quite brutal to me.

Where we have got to (and no it’s not tested at all at this point) is a model that plays with the idea of a porous membrane (an idea introduced to me by the RA team). Here’s how we think it works:

Today at the RA

The idea here is to have a curated page that is fresh every day, but just for that day. The content is pulled from behind the firewall and is freely available. No highlights or hints or get it in full if you sign up, the content for that day is there in full, it can be read, watched, listened to etc. Tomorrow, it’s gone you can’t travel back.

Play Dice

Yup, a big old link that loads a random piece of content from behind the paywall. Read it, Play Dice again. Sharing the link just leads others to Play Dice… maybe.


What I am essentially proposing here with an ‘Everything’ area of the site is the full site, behind a paywall… and fuller UI too. No messing around, up front and yes, a bit like The Times model. It’s worth keeping in mind that there’s a lot more to paying for access than just the website but again, separate post.

What I like about this approach is that there is always going to be some content available for free, every day and always in full and of a good quality and theoretically you could live without the paywall if you wanted to and just have very ‘lite’ access.

What I don’t like about it… well the here today, gone tomorrow model feels like a minefield, what about all those links that will vanish behind the paywall?

Which is really why I’ve made this brief post to ask if anyone has any thoughts?