The other day I was reading a New York Times story my wife had forwarded to me on building resilience later in life. It’s the sort of thing we read often, reminders of how to handle with adversity and not be beaten down by the rough patches in life. That’s been an important part of getting through the last year, as I’ve worked to get freelance work, started a part-time retail gig and so on. Both of us have grappled, sometimes well and sometimes not so much, with all the issues and nuances that come with both those situations as well as everything else life throws at us regularly.
When I loaded the page I was greeted with a message reminding me I had four stories left this month before I would no longer be given access to The New York Times website without a paid subscription. This is part of the paper’s revenue model, giving people enough of a taste that they value the truly great material produced by its team of journalists and editors and hoping it’s enough to hook new subscribers. By all accounts it’s working for them, even if print ad revenue is dropping faster than digital is gaining.
I was about to share the post on my social networks when I started thinking “What if I was incentivized to do so?” Specifically, what if my act of sharing the story unlocked additional access to stories before I hit the paywall?
This isn’t all that much different from how some newspapers and other media brands have allowed people to circumnavigate the paywall by coming in from search and other ways. The difference is that I’m being compensated in some manner for evangelizing for a media outlet that I obviously find some value in. It encourages brand loyalty, something that’s reportedly missing as most people simply remember they saw a story on Facebook, not the name of the original publication or site.
The benefits seem clear: I, the reader, am more likely to click through to a story and read it simply because I can. So I’ll read the original New York Times story, not wait for the Digiday summarization. The NYT (or whatever pub) becomes a bigger part of my media diet. I put more stock in what they have to say. And I’m increasing the visibility of those stories, which hopefully leads to more pageviews which translates into more ad revenue for the source publication and maybe additional subscribers. In a best-case scenario, that positive impact ripples throughout my network.
I realize this may seem like a slightly entitled point of view, as if I want a cookie for doing something instead of paying up to support the journalism I claim to value. But right now I (and countless other people) can’t financially make that commitment. So free it is, using the NYT when I can and turning to other sources when I need to.
There are technical hurdles to this, of course. The sharing would have to be done by logged-in users and likely use the on-page “Share This” buttons on a story to actually be tracked and accounted for. And there’s the possibility for this to be abused.
With media brand loyalty dropping fast and “fake news” being a real problem that has the potential not just to misinform the public but also potentially disrupt our political institutions, it seems an experiment worth engaging in.