Why Drop a Paywall? Mapping Industry Accounts of Online News Decommodification

Mike Ananny, Leila Bighash


Why is news sometimes free? Although the commercial press’s history is, in part, the search for new forms of commodification, journalism sometimes distances itself from commerce and economically decommodifies its work. We investigate one such moment in the form of “paywall exceptions”: instances when online news organizations drop or temporarily reconfigure their paywalls to let news circulate unmetered among subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. We document 69 exceptions from 1999 to 2015, categorize publishers’ publicly stated rationales, and reflect on what they reveal about the networked press’s negotiations between democratic and commercial logics.


digital journalism economics, networked press, online news, paywalls

Full Text: