I have a problem. I want something (access to WSJ’s content), but I don’t want to pay money for it. 😞
We’ve seen this story play out before. Remember Napster? Kazaa? What happened to illegal music downloads? People didn’t collectively decide to stop pirating music in 2004 and become law-abiding citizens. Instead, music became much easier to obtain through legitimate means.
I refer to Stratechery, which (believe it or not) I pay for. Ben Thompson discusses the evolution of music distribution:
The fact of the matter is that pirating music is a huge pain in the rear end relative to the alternative. Consider how music distribution has evolved from the time of the original iPod…
|Buy CD, Rip, Sync||Download, Sync||Piracy|
|iTunes, Sync||Download, Sync||Legitimate (Slightly)|
|iTunes on iPhone||Download, Sync||Legitimate (Huge)|
|Stream||Download, Sync||Legitimate (Massive)|
Convenience killed piracy, and the iTunes on your phone is already pretty damn convenient.
Today, it’s so easy to pull up iTunes that no one bothers looking for music on The Pirate Bay.
My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 15, 2016
Kanye West released his latest album exclusively on Tidal, a premium streaming service. He suddenly made the legitimate channel much, much more onerous:
|Sign up for Tidal||Download, Sync||Piracy (Massive)|
Anyone who wants streaming music already has an account with a streaming music service, and that service sure as hell isn’t Tidal. So those who want Kanye’s music now need to pay another $156/year for Tidal. It’s easier just to pirate the damn thing.
Paywall publications have put up the same barriers: A Wall Street Journal subscription costs $348 per year. WSJ readers probably also read Barron’s ($132/year) and FT ($335/year). Throw in the occasional Washington Post ($99/year), Economist ($152/year), or NY Times ($195/year) article, and you’re running quite a tab.
More importantly, casual readers don’t actually visit any of these sites. They click on links through Twitter, newsletters, or aggregators.
For one-off access, readers will choose the Google-search-paywall trick every time, because the subscription barrier is just too high.
To stop people from sneaking around paywalls, publishers need to make it much, much easier to become a paying customer.
It doesn’t help to make it harder to swipe the content. If piracy becomes impossible, people will simply stop clicking on paywall links. Information is a commodity, and most of the content published in the Wall Street Journal is later regurgitated on Business Insider anyway.
Digital publishers will plug the Referer/User-Agent hack in Isoroku’s post. As commenters pointed out, websites could perform a reverse-DNS lookup to verify the identity of the visitor.
Casual readers who still want the content, but not enough to pay the subscription fee, will share subscriptions. Content-providers should be okay with this. Netflix and HBO GO encourage account-sharing — HBO president Richard Plepler called it a “terrific marketing vehicle,” because sharers tend to get their own accounts later.
Maybe readers will create a pooled subscription vehicle to share subscriptions to many different publishers. Until then, modifying headers to look like Googlebot is just too convenient.
Kanye West and Tidal, The Problem with Exclusivity –stratechery (paywall)