Paywalls? Impact on Local News Websites? Traffic and Their Civic and Business Implications
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionDigital Journalism.2020, 8 (4), 506-525. 10.1080/1461670X.2019.1633946
In an attempt to manage a looming revenue crisis in their transition from print to digital, many local newspapers have implemented user payment (paywalls) in their online editions. This paper asks what the business and civic implications of such introduction of user payment are. Comparing audience metrics on a sample of eight local news websites (four Norwegian, four Danish) for 52 weeks before and after paywall introduction, this study finds that the numbers of both pageviews and unique visitors decrease upon the transition from free to fee-based access to the news. Hard paywalls have a more negative immediate effect on traffic than soft paywalls. This difference equalizes over time and the traffic mainly remains at a decreased level regardless of paywall type. Traffic development in Norway is somewhat better than in Denmark in a short-term perspective, but national differences also even out over time. We posit that while paywalls may constitute a new revenue stream for local news media under financial pressure, they also challenge the civic function of the local news media since fewer people consult them.