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cultural vandal | 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?


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