Paywall (And Other) Etiquette

Robert writes: I am suggesting to my Browser colleagues that we start marking up our recommendations with shortcodes indicating how to approach metered paywalls and registration requests on publishers' websites.

My argument is that, if we do this, I will feel more relaxed about recommending content from commercial publications with metered paywalls and/or registration requirements. We could thus indicate confidently to our subscribers that, say, the requirement on the New York Review Of Books website for all first-time visitors to register, is, in our view, a reasonable one.

We are, by the way, firmly in favour of paid content, and of better pay for writers. But we also suspect that the natural unit of paid content is the article, not the annual subscription, and that publishers are foregoing potentially large revenues by insisting uniquely on subscription models.

So long as publishers choose to offer free access to a few of their articles in order to draw readers' attention to the general excellence of their content and thereby attract new subscribers, the Browser is happy to assist them by recommending the very best of these articles to a wider readership.      

Here is my first draft of a "code" — the shortcodes that might in some way attach to article recommendations on The Browser, and the glossary which would be close at hand.

I'd be pleased to receive comments on this from readers, writers and publishers: robert@robertcottrell.com

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U = Ungated, free. No restrictions of which we are aware.

MP = Metered paywall. Casual visitors are allowed to read a limited number of free pieces each week or month. If we know the number, we will tell you: for example, a recommendation for an article on Harper's, where casual visitors can read one piece free per month, might be marked MP 1/m. But this last is rarely possible, since most publishers prefer to keep the rules of their metered paywalls obscure, and to change or a/b test them unannounced, in the entirely respectable hope of eventually persuading frequent visitors that it would be easier just to buy a subscription.  

BMP = Bypassable metered paywall. As above, but casual visitors who reach their quota limit can open a "private browsing" or "incognito" window in their (small-b) browser to start a new quota. This may sound dodgy; but publishers know perfectly well about this workaround; it would be relatively easy for them to block "incognito" visitors if they wished to do so; and many have put in just such a blocker. We conclude that, where we encounter a BMP, it is part of the publisher's business model.

MPR = Metered paywall with registration. New visitors must create an account on the website to access free content, usually by giving an email address. Reserved for well-behaved publications, such as the New York Review Of Books.

TU = Temporarily ungated. We have reason to think that this particular piece, while free to read now, will be paywalled later. Carpe diem.

PDF = It's a PDF. It may take longer to load, and it may not play well with read-later services. But the PDF has defied expectations of its inevitable demise for almost 30 years; we have to learn to live with it.    


Special cases:

Medium. We can't work it out at all. The general idea seems to be a metered site-wide paywall, but delivered via unpredictable pop-ups and blockers. Whereas most metered paywalls pursue a strategy of temptation, Medium pursues a strategy of frustration. I have found pieces inaccessible on Medium which even the authors themselves had assured me were free. We do very occasionally recommend pieces from Medium, but the caprice of the paywall greatly raises the bar. I would be particularly pleased to hear from writers who publish on Medium what they understand the paywall rules to be, how these are communicated to them, and how much control they have over the settings for their own content.  

Der Spiegel. Often greets casual visitors with a pop-up that looks like a paywall, but is really just an accept-cookies request that goes away when you click "accept".

New Yorker. Metered paywall, fabulous content, but almost never recommended on The Browser, because all of our subscribers seem to be New Yorker subscribers or devotees who read the whole thing anyway.

New York Times. Same situation as the New Yorker.

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