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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

why “you’re only driving readers away with your paywall” is not an effective argument against a paywall (at least in my case)

Former reader Tami posted this comment on one of my posts about the paywall here:

It’s a shame you are not able to make a living doing this; but I suspect the Paywall is going to drive people like myself away. I have been reading your website for years, but if I had to pay for every site I read, I’d never go to any sites. So while I enjoy your writing, I’ll probably go elsewhere.

I was just talking to my husband earlier today that it’s a shame the Internet had been perverted from a place where everything was free to a place people feel entitled to make money off of.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand your desire to make a living doing this, but all you’re really doing is alienating your userbase. I don’t need a sight that does reviews, and am on a limited budget, so you’ll never see me paying. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I can’t justify it.

I have a hunch that if you weren’t making money from ads, they weren’t set up well. I can’t tell you how to change it, but I’ve seen much smaller sites survive on ad revenue. I will say this, the design changes over the past few years had gotten progressively harder to use and find the pages I wanted. Maybe that played into the failure of advertising revenue. Or not.

But whatever the case, I won’t be paying – not because I don’t like you sure but because I just can’t afford these kind of Paywall, especially if the idea spreads.

To which I responded:

Your hunch about ads is wrong. Ad revenue has plummeted in recent years. Even corporate sites are hurting because of it — that’s why you see even more ads, and more obnoxious ads, crowding out the content across the web.

I’m sorry that you believe it’s “perverted” that people want to earn a living from work that 1) requires lots of time and expertise, and 2) lots of people are enjoying. “Entitled”? Why do you feel entitled to professional work for free? Do you feel entitled to other professional services for free? Would you expect an accountant or a plumber to work for free, and do you think that they shouldn’t feel like they should be paid for their work?

I honestly do not understand positions like yours. Do you *want* to read writing only from amateurs who write as a hobby? Can’t you tell the difference between that and professional work? Cuz that’s the Web you’re going to end up with.

You are of course free to go elsewhere for your film reviews. If you can get stuff like mine elsewhere, for free, great.

But you do realize, don’t you, that I’m not really losing anything when readers who do not want to support my work don’t come back?

I’m reposting this exchange because I think I need to make clear one important point:

I lose nothing if readers who don’t want to pay a pittance for my work here don’t come back.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed — because it’s distinctive from many other sites across the Web, including the vast majority of those devoted to movies — there are no ads here. I don’t need to boost pageviews here at any cost. I don’t post linkbaiting things here because there is no benefit to me if surfers stop by here and never come back, or if surfers come back but never purchase a subscription.

(Hint: It’s because of the crash in ad revenue that so many sites will do anything to get you to click to their sites, because they need as many eyeballs as possible in order to boost their income from ads, which pay on the order of hundreths or thousanths of a penny per pageview. Those sites don’t care if you click away again instantly. They just need to maxmize those fractions of pennies. And they will do whatever tricky, sneaky, cheap thing they can to get your 30-second visit.)

I don’t want to sound like I don’t value the audience I’ve built here over 16 and a half years, but you guys — to borrow a term from Tami — are not entitled to the writing I post here. I don’t need to be here. A site like this one doesn’t even work as a portfolio to get other work in the industry, because no one is paying a decent rate for such writing anymore.

So when readers like Tami — and I’m sure there are plenty of others out there who feel the same way — think they’re, I dunno, threatening me or something by saying they’re just not going to come back anymore because of the paywall, I’m not sure what impact they imagine their not-coming-back is going to have. Do they imagine I will drop the paywall, keep posting reviews at the rate I have been — which is more than many other critics do, including the ones with cushy corporate paychecks — and somehow find a way to keep scraping by, keep living like a college student in my 40s? Do they imagine that is conducive to quality writing?

If you’re not going to support my writing here, why should I care if you don’t come back?

posted in:
maryann buzz
  • lannalee


  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, I’ve been scratching my head over that logic for a long time. Good response.

  • RogerBW

    A lot of the more respectable spam I get at work — from actual companies that one can track down, rather than anonymous fraudsters — uses the come-on of “get more traffic for your site”. Actually since our site is not advertising-driven (we’re a charity) we really don’t care how many people look at it, as long as the people who actually need to know about it can get there.

    One would think the advertisers might notice how very, very few brief visits translate into actual product sales, but apparently that’s as much a deep mystery as the rest of advertising.

  • That’s why they’re paying so pathetically little for ads. But they *can* actually measure pageviews and clicks, which they can’t with traditional print, TV, and outdoor/billboard advertising, so they *think* they have a better measure of its impact than they do in other media.

    Interesting analysis of this in USA Today yesterday:


  • RogerBW

    Interesting article, thanks.

  • LaSargenta

    Do you have a gift subscription option? Or is this an e-mail-me-and-I’ll-set-it-up-for-you situation?

  • LaSargenta

    Do you have a gift subscription option? Or is this an e-mail-me-and-I’ll-set-it-up-for-you situation?

  • Yes! You can start a gift sub at this URL:


    I just added that link under the “support maryann” menu.

  • LaSargenta


  • Allen W

    I am actually a subscriber here, but I’m going to answer your questions anyway:

    Q1: Do you *want* to read writing only from amateurs who write as a hobby?
    A1: Well, that describes the large majority of what I read on the Internet, so while I may not want *only* to read such work, the thought of doing so doesn’t alarm me from a purely self-interested standpoint. From an ethical and moral standpoint, I think it would be a shame if nobody could make a living writing on the Internet, so I’m willing to support a few writers.
    Q2: Can’t you tell the difference between that and professional work?
    A2: Honestly? Not so much. Or rather, yes, the proportion of signal to noise is higher in professional work (such as yours) than in amateur work; but it’s not hard to find both good amateur work and bad professional work online.
    What distinguished you, and made me subscribe (apart from having met you in person at a con years ago) were the personal touches; the Doctor Who obsession, the female gazing, your particular viewpoint in the reviews. I’m sad to see the first of those start to fall away as the site streamlines.

  • The daily Doctor Who things may be gone, but I’ll still review the episodes. Maybe I’ll find time to get back to the classic ones.

    it’s not hard to find both good amateur work and bad professional work online.

    That’s true. But how long do you think the amateurs you love will be able to keep it up? Have you encountered amateurs who have disappeared, or who write only very infrequently?

  • Allen W

    By definition, amateur writers write because they want to write (and/or they want to be read). When they’re no longer interested enough in what they’re writing about, they’ll stop; which from a reader’s point of view is just as well.
    It seems to me that writing about film has a higher barrier to entry than, say, writing about television, since it’s more expensive to stay current with the field. However, that’s assuming that you feel obligated to watch and review movies that you’re not already planning on seeing, and don’t expect to enjoy. A professional reviewer may have such an obligation; an amateur reviewer doesn’t, really. If an amateur reviewer only reviews films that they were going to watch anyway, that does make them less individually useful than a professional reviewer; but it’s a big Internet.

  • Eleanor

    I think it’s a tricky question. If I can’t get work as a plumber, then I have to find another job. So in this case it’s a question of: Do you get to choose your job, or do you take what you can get to make ends meet? I’d say that for the majority of people they do whatever job is available to pay the bills. There’s plenty of people who graduate with a degree in the arts, humanities, psychology, or journalism that end up working as a waiter because they can’t find work in their field. That doesn’t mean your work doesn’t have value. Unfortunately that doesn’t always translate into money.

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