Paywalls

Will Tech News Junkies Actually Pay for Scoops?


Information allegedly wants to be free. TheInformation.com does not.

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin announced the debut of a boutique, digital news organization devoted to covering the tech industry. From the get-go, full articles on TheInformation.com will only be available to those subscribing for $39 a month or $399 a year.

In an introductory note to readers, Lessin bemoans the current state of tech reporting as a “race for page views” on free websites with ad-driven business models that results in a deluge of “sensational headlines” and “idle speculation.”

“[I]nstead of chasing the highest number of eyeballs, we will chase and deliver the most valuable news,” writes Lessin. “We’ve set the bar high. To succeed, we need to write articles that deliver value worth paying for. That’s why we’re a subscription publication.”

The announcement underscores what may be an emerging bifurcation in the online news business. Recently there have been signs that the industry could be increasingly dividing into two camps: free sites (BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Gawker Media, Business Insider, Vox Media, etc.) that primarily make money by delivering various forms of consumer advertising to mass audiences, and pay-per-view sites that primarily make money by collecting subscription fees from selective, narrow audiences.

The launch of TheInformation.com comes one day after the relaunch of Capital New York. At the moment, the website remains free, but in the coming months it will move to a subscription-based model. Back in September, Jim VandeHei, president and chief executive officer of Capital New York and Politico, told Bloomberg News he could envision charging readers roughly $1,000 a year for access to the site.

In the meantime, with digital ad rates remaining dauntingly low, an increasing number of traditional news outlets are starting to erect paywalls for access to their coverage online. “In the early days of the Internet, digital libertarians scolded anyone trying to make a buck on the Web, and traditional newspaper publishers essentially gave away their expensive-to-create content for free,” Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee recently noted. “Today, the weakened industry’s survivors seem determined to get readers to pay up, and they’re busily erecting electronic paywalls around their news and entertainment to make sure that happens.”

Dedicated consumers of free news need not panic. In the months ahead, should a good scoop appear somewhere behind a paywall, chances are someone at a free site will figure out a way to quickly spring it. “The truth is, it will cost you a lot less than $199 to hear from me and my BI colleagues any breaking news reported by The Information,” Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson writes today. “If they report something you’ll want to know about it, we’ll share it with you for free—via a link or a story that adds context or a new angle.”

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Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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