piggy-bank-throu-16554407lPaying 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:

Media

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.

timesFor 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.

Music

rdioGlobal 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.

Video

netflixThe 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?

Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist, freelance journalist and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.

Top image via BigStock.

Comments

  • http://daverigotti.com/ drigotti

    I’m 1 for 5.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Care to break it down? Which is the one you’re REALLY paying for?

  • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

    Does Xbox Live count? If so I’m 3 for 5. (Amazon Prime, Netflix and Xbox Live). On the topic of online newspapers, two words: Incognito Mode.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Ahhh…

  • Jason

    I pay for Xbox Live, Netflix, HuluPlus, HBO-GO, Amazon Prime and Xfinity app access whatever they call it again.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      But when you say you pay for HBO Go, it’s still available only with an existing HBO subscription, right? So you’re paying for that, and getting HBO Go on top of it? …

      • Jason

        True. It’s bundled with my internet on a promotion that makes it very cheap. But, I returned the cable box they tried to give me, we don’t allow any “channels” in the house, haven’t since around 2005. When there’s cable, the TV tends to get left on, and just barfs advertisements and junk into our space. Everything we watch we watch on demand.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    Nice article. I think one thing that you didn’t cover which is really important is the role of mobile apps and the death of the web.

    With the rise of mobile we’re seeing a move away from the web and towards apps. Apps make it much easier to lock up content and require subscriptions. Online access over the web via a browser is harder to lock down.

    Plus there’s the fact that we are habituated to things being free in a browser. Apps are new and so new habits and expectations can and are being set.

    The other comment I’ll make is I had a Spotify, Last.fm and Pandora subscription for a year but cancelled them last fall after doing research and learning just how bad those services are in terms of payments to artists. I’ve gone back to buying music once more. I wrote more on that on my music blog: http://andanteblog.com/2012/06/19/thoughts-on-spotify-last-fm-and-pandora/

    • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

      Oh and I guess I’m the high points earner: 6 (NetFlix, Hulu, XBox Live, US News, The Atlantic, The Economist).

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I have heard about artists struggling more than most to get their due as the money finally starts coming in from digital. Good to be conscious of this. Thanks.

      Great point about mobile. I’m annoyed any time I run into something on my phone that requires me to log in, so that’s how vicious the expectation of ready-to-serve personalization on mobile has become.

      Interesting to think of the apps space as a second chance at this whole Internet content thing. And this time, without setting a precedent about so much being given away for free …

  • Paul_Owen

    I get a Pandora One subscription for free through a colleague. I pay for for NYT, WSJ, Sea Times, Prime.To Monica’s point, I added 2 of those subscriptions in the last 90 days.

    I would go back to NetFlix if there was something interesting to watch. I pay $100 a month to Comcast for live sports and events (nearly everything else is on the Web). Someday we’ll break that monopoly.

    I would pay $10 per month for GeekWire. Are you listening John and Todd?

  • Bill Boyd

    The problem with so many paywalls is that it will become increasingly unaffordable to read a wide variety of news sources. One alternative is a system of micro payments, where news outlets get paid (a small amount) for each page view, and the reader pays one bill at the end of the month. But that might launch a ‘click war,’ where content is chosen for its predicted ability to generate clicks. We have way too much of that already. Maybe the answer is a really good aggregation service for serious readers (one that learns your tastes over time but still includes some serendipity).

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