#Topic 5 · #Topic5 · #UOSM2008 · Topic 5 · Topic5 · Uncategorized · UOSM2008

Online Content – Should it be free?

 The internet has opened up many different potential channels through which to distribute content. One of the channels which grew widely is that of freely available content; with websites such as Youtube, Tumblr and WordPress making it possible for opinion, news and academic content to become widely available at no cost to the content creator or to the recipient of the content.

(Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD Comics), 2012)

The video above discusses the problems with publishing in scientific research and academia, keeping information which is supposed to be available for collaboration and education behind a heavy paywall. This model of practice seems to be detrimental to the process of scientific advancement as it could deny access to key papers which could have led to major advances due to the fact that not all papers could be afforded by all departments. This also harms institutes trying to teach in developing countries as it reduces their access to information on a financial standpoint, which can harm growth due to the effect on labour force skills.

This problem of audience being affected by high pricing on content can cause problems for firms selling content as well, with newspaper websites using paywalls being less visited, “In most cases, it’s limiting the ability of these newspapers to build communities or get attention, and actively pushing people away” (Masnick, 2016). The issue is that there is so much content available for free, making it a brave move for establishments to put up a paywall, particularly if they cannot show themselves to have higher quality content.

The problem is firms need to retain sufficient income to continue to produce their content, which is where I would argue systems such as Crowdfund and Patreon are more favourable norms than paywalls. Both systems exist to help make projects possible. This is what I hope the future looks like in the world of art, innovation and science as it enables projects to be funded by those who can afford to pay, while those who can’t but still can benefit and produce great benefit to others from the works can access the content. This system of voluntary payment through Patreon has been working on the internet propping up educational projects such as Crash Course (see below video) for several years (Patreon).


(Crash Course, 2015)


(CGP Grey, 2014)

Overall I would argue, much like with the case of Net Neutrality (as shown in the video above), that the internet thrives from being a space with great and equal accessibility to content. Therefore it is better when content is kept free, with those who can and wish to supporting content they like through methods such as Patreon in order to lead to greater potential for collaboration and group efforts.





CGP Grey, 2014. Internet Citizens: Defend Net Neutrality, Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtt2aSV8wdw – Last Accessed 07/05/2017

Crash Course, 2015. Crash Course Introduction (Patreon), Available From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC3zgzi5zTw – Last Accessed 07/05/2017

Masnick, 2016. Lots Of Newspapers Discovering That Paywalls Don’t Work, Available From https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160815/09353135247/lots-newspapers-discovering-that-paywalls-dont-work.shtml – Last Accessed 07/05/2017

Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD Comics), 2012. Open Access Explained!, Available From https://youtu.be/L5rVH1KGBCY?t=2m29s – Last Accessed 07/05/2017


10 thoughts on “Online Content – Should it be free?

  1. Hi Philip,
    I really enjoyed your post this week. I thought your suggestion that voluntary payment services for projects was a useful solution to the issue of paywalls. However, do you feel that a system of voluntary payment to continue to fund projects is sustainable? I would argue that in many cases some people that can afford to pay would choose not too simply because they have no obligation to do so. Or do you feel that people’s sentiments towards projects that they are passionate about creates greater incentive to pay even a small amount? Developed firms such as CrashCourse have already developed a strong network of loyal followers, whereas new businesses may not have the necessary funds to offer a voluntary payments service without developing some popularity- what are your though on this? I look forward to hearing your response.
    Thanks, David
    Word count: 145


    1. Hi David,

      Thank you for your comment. It is a valid point you raise, however I would fear for smaller businesses trying to grow with a pay wall online anyway. The free access enables audiences to build whereas having a paywall seems to me to be a short-sighted move. While you may make more off of the existing readership, you lose out on potential new readers.

      I think that Patreon (which has a large number of different types of content creators being donated to) and Kickstarter are proof that when people care about a thing, they will give willingly and generously to make it happen. I think this is a sustainable model as readers, listeners or viewers who really want a thing will pay to keep it. It should be noted that Wikipedia currently also operates a donation system and has been around as a major part of the online world for a long time.



  2. Hi Phil,
    Really interesting post this week!

    I would agree with your point in regards to academic papers being hidden behind a paywall. It completely slows down the ability to discover new things and generally prohibits growth within a certain field. The fact that the journal publishers are receiving most of the revenue for all of the articles is outrageous! I feel as if there needs to be a shift in regards to how academic papers are published.

    It is fascinating you mentioned that companies who are introducing a paywall are putting themselves in a competitive disadvantage. However, major news companies are seeing a serious loss in the amount of physical newspapers that are bought each year (Tofel, 2016). With this being said, could you see a change in the future – where newspapers are no longer a product and all major news companies decide to introduce a paywall?

    View story at Medium.com

    Regards, Alex
    Words: 138


    1. Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your comment. I believe it is not only likely, but inevitable that large newspaper firms will stop printing on paper at some point unless they are saved by some form of excessive subsidy. The movements in recent years to aim at the online market is an indicator that they are trying to prepare for such a point in time. However I fear that in the long term the paywall model for newspapers will prove to be unsustainable as it will lead to a case of the established readership remaining while no new readership comes in. Sadly over time the readers of the paper will age and over a generation you’d expect the newspapers of old to die out if they haven’t learned to adapt.



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