Paying for online content was a funny idea back when Napster was a hero and no one had heard the word “paywall.”
Now it seems that’s changed. Almost without noticing, I’ve gone from avoiding any paid online content to subscribing to quite a bit of it.
Whether I’m actually paying for that access is another story. And, I’ll bet, a common one.
Let’s break it down:
The free trial of online news is finally over. A full 450 of the nation’s 1,380 daily newspapers are adopting pay plans for digital access — and they’re working. Newspapers saw a 499 percent jump in combined print and digital subscriptions and a 275 percent jump in digital-only subscriptions in 2012, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
For an industry plagued by plummets, the following was actually good news: overall revenues dipped “only” 2 percent.
What do I pay for?
Digital access to The Seattle Times, which rolled out its paywall last month. Well … sort of.
I was already a print subscriber to the paper’s weekend edition when the digital paywall went up. My digital access was grandfathered in. (I don’t read the paper much before it hits the recycle bin, but it’s good to support local journalists — especially when you’re on the payroll.) [Editor's Note: Monica writes a blog and a Sunday column for the Seattle Times.]
I’m getting the same thing I got for the same price. Did I actually buy anything? No.
Then there’s The New York Times. I have digital access to the newspaper of record, which comes with a price tag after a certain number of articles read per month. I read way past that pay meter, but haven’t paid a cent for the subscription in two years.
That’s because when the paper rolled out its online paywall in 2011, they let current subscribers pick one family member with whom to share their digital access. My mother-in-law chose me.
Score: 0 for 2.
Global sales in the music industry rose in 2012 for the first time since 1999, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, with a healthy 34 percent of revenue came from digital sources. The first industry to be ripped apart by digital is giving others reason to hope.
What do I pay for?
I’ve got tiny hard drives on my devices, so downloading tunes was never a thing. The first all-access digital music service we paid for was Zune, back in 2009. When we got tired of not being able to rock out on our smartphones, we switched to Rdio.
Rdio, if you haven’t heard of it, is essentially Spotify. Ten bucks a month to listen to just about any song, any time, wherever your devices can take you.
Twenty million people are now subscribed to music streaming services like Rdio, a number that grew 44 percent last year.
Score: 1 for 1.
The online video streaming wars are so much fun to watch. All the big tech companies are racing for a piece of a booming market and innovators like Netflix are raising eyebrows with fresh ideas. Five million households have cut the cable cord to become what they call “Zero TV” video viewers, according to Nielsen. Watch for that to spike.
What do I pay for?
Netflix, definitely. I’ve been signed up since 2006 and despite some almost-stumbles, it’s never let me down. From DVDs to streaming movies and now original TV series, every step seems seamless and natural. And $7.99 a month has always seemed cheap.
Amazon Prime, too. It’s $79 a year for free shipping that includes access to Amazon’s growing collection of instant video. But did we get it for that access? No. We got it for the mountains of diapers we needed shipped to our house when our baby arrived last summer. The video feels like a bonus.
As for the rest …
Hulu Plus I’ve had for the last three weeks. Not because I paid for it, but because my mom signed in with her account when she visited and never logged out. I swept through Season 2 of “Smash” and both seasons of the haunting low-budget show “The Booth at the End.” If it’s a crime, it doesn’t feel like one. All I did was nothing.
HBO Go is a similar story, with more faux guilt. We wanted to watch season one of “Game of Thrones” last year and a relative gave us his password. Never mind that season two feels like a bad Cliff’s Notes version of the books (yup – I’m that fan) but “Girls” and “Veep” are works of art.
To make matters interesting, Netflix and HBO have more or less shrugged at password sharing, a common practice, apparently. It’s kind of like newspapers’ “porous” paywalls. Some pay, some you let in the back door. You can always use the publicity.
Score: 1 for 4.
The gap between what we want and what we’re willing to pay for online is closing. But if my content budget is any indication, it’s far from shut.
I have access to seven paid content sources, but only really pay for two.
What’s your score?