“I’m not saying paywalls are universally wrong,” said managing director Ian McClelland of the local edition of The Guardian, “But if you’re a general news operation, I think it’s a suicidal business model.”
The potential introduction of a paywall was a topic of discussion during a press briefing to mark the opening of The Guardian’s new Sydney offices.
McClelland discussed the reason why digital paywalls, adopted by competitors, would not be adopted by the Aussie edition of the British news site.
“Allowing readers to contribute and share is fundamental to the growth of The Guardian, but it’s really hard for audiences to contribute and share if we suddenly go behind a paywall,” McClelland said.
According to editor Emily Wilson local audiences comment twice as much as their US and UK counterparts and local audiences want to engage with the journalists, get closer to the news, and have a say.
McClelland added that a paywall would discourage open participation and sharing on social media. He argued readers are more likely to participate if they aren’t denied access to the website in the first place, describing news site paywalls as “the most deflating experience ever”.
Ian Tomlinson’s death at the 2009 G20 summit protest, was used as an example for why paywalls are disruptive to the flow of news. Tomlinson was a passerby during a G-20 protest, he died after being struck by a police officer. The Guardian published exclusive footage which contradicted the original autopsy report, proving that Tomlinson was unlawfully killed by a police officer.
McClelland argued that a paywall would have discouraged the onlooker, an investment banker from New York, from contributing his video. “That video didn’t come from a Guardian subscriber…why would you bother sending a video if the result of that footage was beyond a paywall?”
Yet the glaring question remains: how will the site make its British owners any money? After all, paywalls are increasingly popular and also can be very successful. The New York Times, for example, started charging for online content in March 2011. In 2014, according to CNN, the majority of the publication’s $91.9 million revenue- 52% comes from paywall subscribers