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Journalism Online’s Press+ paywall: easy to defeat

After my skeptical post yesterday about Journalism Online’s new Press+ paywall at the Lancaster (Pa.) Online site, a source let me know how easy it was to beat the meter.
Recall that the meter allows out-of-towners to read seven obits for free, the

After my skeptical post yesterday about Journalism Online’s new Press+ paywall at the Lancaster (Pa.) Online site, a source let me know how easy it was to beat the meter.

Recall that the meter allows out-of-towners to read seven obits for free, then you must pay $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. But if you’re using the Firefox browser and install the NoScript add-on — voila! Paywall disappears!

That’s just too damned easy for a technology that supposed to rescue news operations nationally and even globally. The company’s response? Yeah, it’s a problem, but it won’t matter much. In fact, it matters so little we’ll tell you another way to bypass the meter.

Here’s the company’s statement:

Article continues after advertisement

Press+ is aware that there are ways users can avoid paying for the content its affiliates are about to charge for, including by using this Firefox extension (as well as by using multiple browsers), if they are willing to spend the time and effort and endure the related inconvenience.

As we develop the system in the coming months we will implement our plans to address this problem to the degree it is material for any publisher. But we’ll do so from the prospective that we are talking about content that has been free for years; thus the fact that a small percentage of people may try to circumvent a modest charge for it and succeed in doing so for a short period of time must be seen in light of the fact that most won’t, which means that a new revenue stream from loyal readers will have been created.

Put simply, you wouldn’t continue to make all books in a bookstore free simply because there may be some shoplifters temporarily able to swipe a few of them.

Ernie Schreiber, Lancaster Online’s editor, helpfully adds a third way to re-set the meter: delete the browser “cookie” that stores Lancaster Online’s info. Still, like the Press+ folks, he says he’s “not at all concerned” about the vulnerabilities.

“I really don’t think that the audience of obit readers intersect with the audience of tech geeks who get around these things,” Schreiber contends. “It’s an issue we have to deal with, but should it hold up the experiment for a month? Nah.”

Schreiber says the Journalism Online folks — who include ex-Wall Street Journal publisher and current Star Tribune board member Gordon Crovitz — have experience with the WSJ paywall, which can also be bypassed. “The number of people who go through the time and inconvenience is small,” Schreiber says.

To be fair, tweaking NoScript’s filters can be a bit time-consuming, and I’m not sure how many readers use multiple browsers to get around ad- and code-related obstacles (though I do).

Adds Schreiber, “My perspective is that newspapers don’t have all the time in the world to bring in the revenue to support the newsroom. We laid off some really good journalists, everybody talks about getting it done, they say they’re going to do it and have big meetings in Chicago. [Journalism Online] got something going really fast, it’s a start, and we’re going to learn.”

While I remain skeptical of meters, I have sympathy for the “experiment and learn approach” — though if I were a publisher, I would at least expect Press+ to have a system robust enough to withstand turning JavaScript off.