About Harper’s Magazine’s paywall

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In an unorthodox, hilarious interview, The Awl talks to Harper’s Magazine’s associate editor Paul Ford, who runs the magazine’s website, about their content paywall. The Awl editor Choire Sicha asked, ‘what are the goals of the Harper’s website? By which I mean: is it to drive subscriptions? To be self-supporting? To get attention? To be considered cool by the kids? Or some other, heretofore unthought-of idea?’

Paul: Okay! Let’s talk about the paywall. People are very curious about paywalls. Choire: Oh yes. It is an obsession in this time! Paul: So, for strangers to, if you want to read the current issue of the magazine–the one on newsstands–you have to be a subscriber, which costs $16.97 a year. Choire: That is outrageous. Paul: IT IS INSANITY! It is the END OF THE INTERNET AS WE KNOW IT! Choire: I mean, what incentive do people [have] to pay that kind of money! What do they even GET for that! (Annnd… end sarcasm.) Paul: But… Paul: But… Paul: We’re really into the idea of subscribers giving us money in exchange for our product.

It sounds so logical! But paywalls haven’t been widely used by media organizations. The New York Times once had a paid-only area that it abandoned; in January, the company announced that would implement a paywall in 2011. Mediawatchers of all stripes were circumspect; maybe paywalls are making a comeback.

Harper’s made headlines recently when it suddenly parted ways with Roger Hodge, who’d been editor since 2006. The details of his departure remain murky, but the paywall wasn’t part of the problem. Publisher John MacArthur told the N.Y. Times:


‘I’m more confident about the future because of the Guantánamo piece and the paid model of the Web site, and I think I’m seeing a little bit of uptick on the newsstand.’

So not only was the paywall a success; Paul Ford notes that Hodge even added a little xml to his literary editing skills to get involved in the website at a higher level.

-- Carolyn Kellogg