Producing Notes - The Bottom Line

Back in the good old days (about one year ago), I would sit down at my desk in the morning with my breakfast and read the newspaper. Being in Generation Y, this of course meant turning on my computer and logging onto and

Last October The Globe and Mail put up a paywall. That means that I get 10 free articles a month and then it locks me out (unless of course I subscribe to a monthly digital subscription). No problem. I begin limiting my readership to The Toronto Star and – while not ideal – I was still getting my daily dose of legitimate news, saving my Globe and Mail ‘freebies’ for theatre articles. Well, as of last month, The Toronto Star is also hidden behind a paywall. Ditto for The National Post and The Toronto Sun.

I’m a rational person. I know that newspapers have to make money. Employing top-notch journalists and ensuring high quality news comes at a price. With the decline of subscriptions for physical papers, I of course understand that these businesses shouldn’t just be giving their product away for free.

And yet, I can’t bring myself to subscribe. I can’t explain why. I just don’t want to. I’m used to getting my news free online. I still have lots of reputable options that I can set as my homepage offering free news. When I think about all of the different sources that I read in one day (often linked via Facebook and Twitter), I am unsure I can rationalize the $6-20 per month for the subscription. In my brain, I know that I am being unfair and that these companies deserve my payment. And yet, I just really can’t do it.

I’m not enough of an expert to debate the pros and cons of a paywall system, but I do know one thing. This can’t be good for the arts. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen Facebook postings sending me to wonderful preview articles and reviews for my friends’ shows. I eagerly click on the link only to be told that I’ve already used up my 10 free articles. Suddenly I realize what significant impact this will have on our promotion. Typically we send out e-blasts to over 6000 people with links to reviews. What if a large percentage of those people can’t open the link? In recent years, some pre-press and reviews have been limited to ‘online only’ as the newspapers have shrunk in size. But won’t that news be read by significantly less people once it lives behind the paywall?

Interestingly, the same week that The Toronto Star launched its paywall, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News announced a removal of theirs. After The Chronicle removed their paywall, one of its former executives, Phil Bronstein, commented: “Paywalls are primarily there to maintain the base that you have - older readers like me, people who aren’t necessarily going to be around in another 10 years. We’re not the future of news organizations.”

So what’s the future for paywalls in our local newspapers? Only time will tell. I certainly want our local papers to thrive financially and don’t wish them failure in this new initiative. But I do worry that there are a lot of people like me out there. People who have gotten so used to free online content that they’d rather find a new news source than pay for the major dailies online. And as an independent theatre producer, I worry that, in turn, we will lose access to our most reputable and valuable mass notification system. The articles will still (hopefully) be written, but only a small section of the masses may be able to read them.

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