Newspapers and magazines have toyed with Internet paywalls for years. The New York Times put their stable of opinion writers behind the green door for a while, until the editors realized that (a) few people wanted to pay to read Maureen Dowd and Bob Herbert, and (b) locking them away made them largely irrelevant. The venerable entertainment newspaper Variety made the same discovery, only they want to have their cake and eat it too, as Jim Romanesko reports (via Jay Rosen):
We realize that our paywall has discouraged sites like yours from linking to our content in the past, even when Variety breaks big showbiz stories. Showblitz gives you that way let your users have access to an important source of news — and it also gives you an easy way to monitor a feed of Variety’s exclusives and breaking news.
This is not a strategy shift for Variety.com. The paywall lives on. Each entry on Showblitz – short, timely, punchy and art-centric – will include links to the full stories within Variety.com. In fact, what better way to entice eventual new subscribers than great, compelling, timely and newsy content they can’t get anywhere else?
We hope you’ll explore the blog, use it as your personal Variety feed (if you don’t subscribe already; and we hope it encourages you to do so!). But most importantly, we hope you’ll start linking to Showblitz, which you’ll notice is not ad-supported – it’s built for you to use and, hopefully, help draw attention to Variety’s wealth of breaking entertainment news.
That strategy is certainly worth a try, but it’s not likely to make Variety any more relevant in the blogosphere. First, linking to blurbs about content is not the same as linking to the content itself. We get plenty of complaints when we link to subscription-only content, even at must-read sources like the Wall Street Journal. The Time of London disappeared off of my radar screen completely when it went behind a paywall, and linking to a free blurb would hardly be worth the trouble, even for that legendary newspaper. Why not just wait for another source? If the story is good enough, others will cover it.
Variety has a big reputation as an indispensable resource for entertainment industry insiders, but those people already subscribe to Variety. Over the past ten years, a plethora of on-line competitors for that inside information and flat-out gossip have arisen to challenge Variety, which with its paywall hardly bothers to compete at all in that arena. The problem is that Variety stopped having the monopoly on breaking “big showbiz stories,” and sites can link elsewhere to cover the same news — even if they can’t do it with Variety.
The problem of monetizing on-line publication is quite real, and many if not most outlets struggle with right-sizing their businesses for the economics of New Media. Variety, with its industry positioning, has been sheltered from that process until now. But clearly, paywalls do not enhance the model, and at worst end up making media outlets irrelevant in today’s marketplace, as Variety’s bleg demonstrates.
Update: I have been rightly corrected on my conjugation error of “begat”; I’ve corrected the headline.