Newspaper paywalls and RSS readers are turning a generation of news junkies into “super-skimmers”.
Since 2010, when the Wall Street Journal implemented the first newspaper paywall, there has been a slow march towards the implementation of “soft” paywalls. A soft paywall allows limited access for user who must pay before gaining unfettered access to a website.
In order to attract readers, newspapers publish RSS Feeds containing an ongoing list of the latest articles, including the headline and the first few lines of the article.
Anyone equipped with an RSS Reader can subscribe to a virtually limitless number of newspaper RSS Feeds and have the headlines and first few lines of each article displayed in an endless stream. If the person clicks on the article, the person becomes subject to the rules of the publication. Some newspapers permit users to view a few articles per months free of charge while other publications take a harder stand. In either case, people quickly discover that clicking on articles invites frustration, as most clicks result in a request for a subscription fee.
In an informal survey of people who use RSS Readers, I have found a consensus that people are reading the headlines and the first few words of each article and are not bothering to access the entire article.
To be clear, anyone who has ever subscribed to a newspaper has skimmed the headlines on busy day and not bothered to read the articles. But the combination of the newspaper paywall and RSS Reader has the potential to turn a large portion of the population into super-skimmers – people who subscribe to a lot of publications but never read beyond the headline and the first few lines.
Newspaper journalists have always known that an article should be written in an inverted pyramid style, with the most important information at the top – for fear of “burying the lead”. But the combination of RSS Readers and paywalls has created a universe in which the headline and the lead are the only thing most people will see.
How has this changed the way you consume news?