Everyone hates pay walls. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unabashedly positive reaction to them. People (and by people, I mean “intelligent members of the technorati”, ’cause Youtube commenters don’t count) generally hem, haw, and otherwise wax poetic, about the necessity of revenue streams and elite audiences and… oh god stop me now, I almost fell asleep just typing that.
The bottom line is that pay walls suck, and so far we haven’t found a simple, universal way to monetize content. Sure, you can sell tee shirts (the revenue model that many web comics use), but I only need so many of those, and I certainly don’t need more than 1 a month. So that probably doesn’t work for the New York Times, or Wired, or any large shop.
Increasingly, it looks like people are monetizing on the App Store. Either they sell an app, or they bundle an app with a subscription. Wired Magazine is a good example; you purchase a yearlong subscription, and along with the magazines, you get an iPad/iPhone copy as well. There are, of course, problems with this.
In the first place, the App Store can be kind of a lottery for non-established players. The only person that will always do well will be Apple. A walled garden with a 30% entrance fee is pretty lucrative, after all. Your app may not sell that well (cause, you know, there’s a few to compete with), but somebody’s will.
Additionally, Apple has a tendency to be a little conservative when it comes to whose app gets approved and whose doesn’t. All of these things have combined to engender a backlash against Apple, and in some ways, are responsible for the popularity of the Android platform.
So which is worse? A pay wall on your web content? Or having to jump through hoops to get into a walled garden? It turns out, we now have an answer. Last month, Playboy released iPlayboy with a subscription model (a fancy word for a pay wall, if ever I’ve heard one!). iPlayboy of course, being the Playboy archive and a place to get all of their new issues to boot. The tricky bit is that, as the name suggests, they designed and implemented the website to look and feel like a native iPad app, thereby getting into that lucrative iDevice market, while avoiding App Store censorship. Every single review so far has commented on circumventing the App Store restrictions. None have bitched about the content being behind a pay wall.
It turns out, no one cares about your pay wall, if the alternative was worse. The New York Times and co may want to take note.