The Washington Post, once an opponent of charging for online content, has reversed course, announcing plans to launch a metered paywall this summer.
As paywalls go, the Post's will have plenty of cracks. Readers will be allowed to access 20 free articles every month before being prompted to subscribe. The newspaper’s homepage, section front pages and classifieds will not be metered. Students, teachers, school administrators, government employees and military personnel will have unlimited access to the Post’s content while in their schools or workplaces. Readers who access articles through Google, Facebook or other searched or shared links will able to access the linked page no matter how many articles they have previously read, according to the announcement.
“News consumers are savvy; they understand the high cost of a top quality newsgathering operation and the importance of maintaining the kind of in-depth reporting for which The Post is known,” Post publisher Katharine Weymouth wrote in a statement. “Our digital package is a valuable one and we are going to ask our readers to pay for it and help support our newsgathering as they have done for many years with the print edition.”
The paywall announcement is a major strategy shift for the newspaper, which had maintained that it wouldn’t charge for content. In late 2011, Weymouth told Politico, “We want to be around as The Washington Post for a long time and many generations to come, and at the moment, we think that the best way to do that is to have a free website that is open to everybody and attract as many people as we can to spend as much time as they can with our journalism, and assume that that will bring them back for more.”
It may have been the success of other paywall models—like that of The New York Times, which reported that its circulation revenue now exceeds its advertising revenue since launching a paywall two years ago—that changed the Post’s mind. The recently released Pew Research Center's State of the News Media report applauded the Times’ paywall strategy, calling it “a sea change from the traditional revenue split of as much as 80 percent advertising dollars to 20 percent circulation dollars.”