Paying to Preserve Democracy?

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz recently introduced a paywall to its  digital version and started charging users for access to online Hebrew content. This is a bold move.

Haaretz is not the first to try charging for digital content in Israel. YNET, the online version of Israel’s most widely circulated daily Yediot Aharonot, tried charging non-Israeli visitors for access years ago, but quickly gave up the practice in face of widespread consumer dissatisfaction.

Amos Shocken, Haaretz’s owner and publisher, explained that he had no choice. The cost of maintaining a 24/7 website is such that it is economically justifiable only if paid for. He also appealed for the wider sense of responsibility of his readers, saying that digital subscribers “are investing in the future of high-quality journalism in Israel, without which democracy cannot survive”. No less.

Time will tell if Haaretz’s move is successful. Shocken sees his newspaper as the Israeli equivalent of The New York Times, and is hopeful that he can emulate NYT’s success with paid online subscriptions. The main problem is, of course, market size. Haaretz has a circulation of less than 100,000, a fraction of that of Yediot Aharonot. So Shocken is betting the future of his online presence on a very small and dwindling (albeit devoted) customer base.

I have been reading Haaretz for decades. In my opinion it is the only daily newspaper worth reading in Israel. I am therefore a natural candidate for an online subscription. But, alas, I have not subscribed yet. The reason is very simple. I still have full access to Haaretz on my Android smartphone (no idea why). More importantly, a friend sent me a small add-on to my Chrome browser that enabled me, after 15 seconds of installation, to gain full access to Haaretz online.

Whilst I appreciate Shocken’s appeal to my sense of responsibility for Israel’s democratic future, I believe Haaretz needs to be a little more serious about its paywall’s resilience before I dig into my pocket and pay for a digital subscription.


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