05/19/2010 09:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Paywall Revolution Could Actually Be a Revolution

Rupert Murdoch puts up a paywall around his Times and Sunday Times in London next week. The New York Times is indicating it will put its wall up in January.

So what happens to the news world when most people no longer get their news from the most established sources? This is a different question than whether Murdoch or the NYT can make a viable business--or at least gain a meaningful contribution to their costs--from a paying, albeit smaller, audience. This is about what happens to the 90%--and by some estimates 99%--of the audience that will change its daily news habit rather than pay. By some estimates this could be more than 50 million people suddenly untethered.

What are the Times-es of New York and London like without the bulk of their readers?

I've argued many times before that the Wall Street Journal's paywall contributed to its fall from favor and ultimate sale. As the web's prominence rose, the Journal's prominence sank. Left out of search results, it was absent as a source and authority on most issues. This, I believe, impacted on crucial brand advertising--with advertisers, a notably fair-weather lot, saying "skip the Journal, I don't hear much about it anymore." It also impacted on younger members of the Bancroft family, the Journal's owners, who themselves began to doubt the WSJ's pride of place and, hence, their own pride in it. This was among the factors that allowed the company to be sold to Rupert Murdoch, who has, in fact, made more of the WSJ available online for free than ever before.

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