It was Reagan who said,
We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
He understood that walls keep us apart. Walls exist to stop the flow of knowledge, ideas and human connection. It is the lack of walls that has fueled the growth of Facebook and Twitter, while the existence of walls has crippled Microsoft and MySpace.
Now, this is not to say that walls can’t protect us or be built to protect our treasures. Walls have a place in our society. As I wrote here, I actually applaud the idea of a wall:
I was reminded this morning of one of the best chapters in the “Last Lecture,” titled, “Romancing The Brick Wall.” Randy Pausch eloquently and pignantly writes, “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.” I couldn’t agree more.
The key here of course is that on the other side of the wall is something of value. In essence, the effort involved in scaling the wall is equal to the reward on the other side. If you will, there’s a certain mutual exchange.
It’s this concept of mutual exchange that publishers have seemingly forgotten. Last week, I was reminded of how far publishers still need to come and how silly their approach to pay walls are.
For those not in the know, the term “pay wall” refers to the approach being taken by companies where you pay for access to their content. Some companies take a 100% approach to this, where all the content is behind the pay wall, while others offer a hybrid model that allows for some content to be free and some (generally content considered to be more premium) is behind the wall. This isn’t new. Companies have been using a variety of pay wall approaches for more than a decade. Of late, though it seems that there’s been a shift from rationale thinking and approaches to pay walls, toward ridiculous and unbalanced approaches.
Let me explain; for years AdAge.com had a great pay wall model. Fresh content was made free to users (it was ad supported), but archived and older content required a pay subscription. In my opinion, it was a great way to demonstrate to visitors that they completely grasped the idea of mutual exchange and wanted to create an environment where ideas, insights and knowledge would thrive. This approach was smart and balanced.
Of late, AdAge seems to be experimenting with different thresholds for their pay wall. While this post focuses on them, let me say, there are 100s if not 1000s of companies experimenting in the same manner. Last week, nearly every piece of content on the site seemed to be placed behind the pay wall. I was perplexed. Clearly, it had to be just me, right? It was a cookie glitch or something. I checked with several folks in the office and we were all having the same “problem.”
Putting all the content behind a pay wall would make sense if AdAge’s content was truly premium. But, when you consider that sites like AdRants and Mashable, in addition to the great collection of agency blogs out there, have better and more importantly FRESHER content, how can AdAge justify this model? This is a clear case of a company disregarding the concept of mutual exchange. In a 24/7, real-time, always on demand world (yes, I just stuffed all those buzz words into one sentence), AdAge and the like have three options if they want to remain relevant:
- Provide better, fresher, more premium content – that in a perfect world offers different viewpoints and voices. If they do this, a pay wall…heck even more of an aggressive pay wall makes sense.
- Keep offering the same voices and same frequency of content. In doing so, maintain a status quo.
- Tear down more and more of the pay wall. This would make even MORE of the content available and in theory attract more visitors.
Pay walls are here to stay. They won’t go away. They can be a good thing. But, companies need to remember the idea of mutual exchange when they put up those pay walls. If they forget about it, they might find themselves alone, behind a wall that serves no purpose, because no one is trying to get in.