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The Newspaper Paywall Delusion

Now, there is a place for a "paid tier." There has always been a way to get paid directly for reporting, sometimes very small bits of reporting, stories you don't want everyone to know about, scoops given only to the select.

It's called a newsletter.

My first Atlanta editor retired to run a newsletter. He took public company reports, interviewed select CEOs, glued the results to pasteboard and sold subscriptions for about $395/year. Only financial analysts and investment pros would pay that price, which made his work "insider" insight worth paying for.

Lots of business-to-business magazines also restrict circulation. Qualified readers, who fill out cards to prove they're players in the industry, get free subscriptions. Others might pay, or they might even be refused, because the magazine wants to tell advertisers their ads reach the whole industry, with no wasted circulation.

The Internet values depth, not breadth. There are an infinite number of paid opportunities in the field you're reading about now, because everyone is looking for an edge, an insider's insight. Many will pay for that insight just to make sure competitors don't get it.

But that's not true in general news. You turn on the TV and there it is. If a story isn't known widely, it's not even news. If a newspaper puts up a paywall, it's no longer a newspaper. It's a newsletter.

If the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal want to become newsletters, that's fine by me. But they're leaving a huge market vacuum and that vacuum will be filled.

As Eliza Doolittle said in "My Fair Lady," "We can do very well without you."

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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