Over the past six weeks, paywalls have become an especially hot topic of conversation in the media world. In December alone, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast/Newsweek, and The Atlantic all announced that they will likely experiment with some form of one in 2013.
And, just like that, 2013 has already become “The Year of the Paywall.” Over the course of the next 12 months, we can expect a constant stream of selectively released paywall data flowing through the columns of media reporters. Interest will be intense. Winners and losers are ready to be crowned.
Major media brands just showing up to the paywall party are late. Entrance now simply reflects a long overdue recognition of something that many analysts have already understood for years: that, in our increasingly digital world, traditional media companies will have to charge for access to some form of digital content. Many publishers had been hesitant to fully internalize this need. They waited for industry leaders, such as The New York Times and Gannett, to provide some leadership before dipping their toes into the water. Now, they seem to be coming on board in a wave.
But, 2013 has moved beyond the paywall conversation. 2013 demands something different, more radical, and a bit scarier, from traditional media companies. It demands true product innovation.