Journal article Open Access

From Gratis to Paywalls: A brief history of a retro-innovation in the press's business

Arrese, Ángel

To make readers pay for news content has always been a fundamental way to generate revenues for the press and an essential part of its business model. However, the arrival of the internet in the mid-1990s changed this business logic for many newspapers, as they delivered their content on the internet for free, waiting for a return based almost exclusively on advertising revenues. For more than a decade, most publishers adopted the new logic of gratis online news for readers. But this started to change, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. This article analyses the history of this change in the business strategy of the press, reflecting the introduction of different payment systems, and finally paywalls, to generate revenues for online newspapers. The study distinguishes four stages in the evolution of journalistic paywalls and points out the interest in considering the process of paywall adoption as a retro-innovation. This brief history of paywalls also shows how some prestigious brands, certain business leaders and a few specialized fields of journalistic activity—such as the economic and business press—have made a considerable contribution to the growing popularity of new payment systems among media companies.
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