(Newsroom America) -- Researchers have found that New York Times readers who were led to believe the newspaper's paywall was motivated by financial need were generally supportive and willing to pay, while those who believed it was motivated by profit were generally unsupportive and unwilling to pay.
The findings are revealed in a paper published today by Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.
In a national online longitudinal survey, participants reported their attitudes and behaviors in response to the recently implemented metered paywall by the New York Times.
Previously free online content now requires a digital subscription to access beyond a small free monthly allotment.
Participants were surveyed shortly after the paywall was announced and again 11 weeks after it was implemented to understand how they would react and adapt to this change.
Most readers planned not to pay and ultimately did not. Instead, they devalued the newspaper, visited its Web site less frequently, and used loopholes, particularly those who thought the paywall would lead to inequality.
Results of an experimental justification manipulation revealed that framing the paywall in terms of financial necessity moderately increased support and willingness to pay.
Framing the paywall in terms of a profit motive proved to be a noncompelling justification, sharply decreasing both support and willingness to pay.
The researchers say the results suggest that people react negatively to paying for previously free content, but change can be facilitated with compelling justifications that emphasize fairness.
The article "Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall," written by Jonathan Cook, Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, and Shahzeen Attari, Assistant Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University-Bloomington is available free on the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking website.