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Parsing the Times Paywall

In a new paper (abstract; PDF), psychologists Jonathan Cook and Shahzeen Attari surveyed users about the hotly debated New York Times paywall:

Participants were surveyed shortly after the paywall was announced and again 11 weeks after it was implemented to understand how they would react and adapt to this change. Most readers planned not to pay and ultimately did not. Instead, they devalued the newspaper, visited its Web site less frequently, and used loopholes, particularly those who thought the paywall would lead to inequality. Results of an experimental justification manipulation revealed that framing the paywall in terms of financial necessity moderately increased support and willingness to pay. Framing the paywall in terms of a profit motive proved to be a noncompelling justification, sharply decreasing both support and willingness to pay. Results suggest that people react negatively to paying for previously free content, but change can be facilitated with compelling justifications that emphasize fairness.

In short, telling people that the Times was likely to go bankrupt without the paywall bolstered their support, while explanations emphasizing financial stability did not. The authors conclude that “content providers could benefit from more thorough attempts to justify price structures.”

(HT: Marginal Revolution)