SWAN of the Week, No. 127

Happy Friday!

Do you keep hitting paywalls trying to read articles online?

Whether via social media, a text or Google searches, that annoying registration gate always seems to pop up — saying you’ve read your 5-10 free articles that month —  at the worst time.

And if you’re like me, you think “C’mon! I just want to read THIS article.”

So what do you do?

  • Step 1: Copy the link, open an “incognito” private browsing window, and paste the link in. That often defeats the cookie tracking.
  • Step 2: Open a second browser and paste that link in. This is the primary reason I keep Chrome on my phone and Safari on my laptop.
  • Step 3: Google the article and click on it through via Google News, which often will bypass the registration screen.
  • Step 4: Copy/paste the lede of the article into Google, then see if another website has syndicated the story.
  • Step 5: Find the author of the story on Twitter, and see if they’ve posted a tweet thread about their story with the best parts.

But what if you actually paid for the content you want to read?

In an era where content (news, music, video, apps, social networks, WiFi) seems to be essentially free, it can be tough to pay for it. But the argument goes, “We pay good money for far less valuable and more fleeting things – coffee and pastries and chewing gum and $7 sandals. Why not pay for content?”

As the paywalls go up, I’ve seen an uptick of people asking to borrow my passwords, specifically for The New York Times, Washington Post, AdAge, PR Week and Adweek. And I’m not sharing them. I need to read these for my job and for my life as a human on Planet Earth. These subscriptions support journalists covering those stories, and to be honest, I also had a bad experience getting flagged once for sharing passwords.

But if I added up subscription costs for all of the sites of which I regularly encounter registration gates, the total is more than $30 a week, and nearly $1700 a year.

Here’s the math, based on regular paywall site subscription fees of sites I visit frequently enough to hit them (based on a quick search of subscription costs online):

  • NYT: $3.75/week
  • WaPo: $3/week
  • AdAge: $3.25/week
  • PR Week: $5.73/week
  • Adweek: $2.86/week
  • Star Tribune: $3.79/week
  • Digiday+: $6.07/week
  • Insider Prime: $3.23/week
  • Chaska Herald: $.92/week
  • Total = $32.60/week = nearly $1700/year.

So it turns out $1700 a year is way more expensive than merely skipping a coffee each week. And that’s why I don’t pay for subscriptions for all of the publishers and content creators I love, and why I can’t shell out money for every paid email newsletter, Mediums, Patreon or your latest Facebook Birthday Fundraiser.

It’s been said we’re living in the best era of streaming content of our lives. And you can easily add up the fees for Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Prime Video, Disney+ and DirecTV and get to $32.60/week. So you have to pick. And you share passwords.

Every popular song (and many not so popular) is available for less than $10/month through Spotify Premium. I have more than 3,000 CDs in boxes in my basement, but I pay a monthly fee to stream most of that content because it’s convenient to do so. It’s easier to pay the $10 bucks than try to steal it or even own it myself. There isn’t a scaleable model of that sort for journalism and this generation’s diaspora of the best content creators across the social web.

I don’t have the solution, but my personal challenge is to try to pay for the best content. And to find ways to support my favorite journalists and content creators by reading them, crediting them, linking to their content, buying their books, sharing contacts and background with them, and advocating for their coverage.

Content isn’t free. And it shouldn’t be. But the model is still broken. Display banner ads are terrible, journalists aren’t paid enough, and there are too many publishers worthy of subscriptions than ever.

My strategic bet is that you won’t pay me for the SWAN of the Week email, so it’s free. My strategic bet is that you’ll find enough value in this content that you’ll link to me, continue to be part of my network, refer work to me, or teach me something. Hope I’m right.

But I’m still not sharing my passwords with you.

See you on the internet!