Reading and exploring the Web is losing a little bit of its luster. In a single day, I encounter nearly a dozen paywalls and app/sign-in walls. Paywalls want you to pay a cover-fee for content. App/sign-in walls are just paywalls where you pay with your privacy.

Here’s all the paywalls I’ve encountered in the last 24-hours or so.

  • New York Times
  • NYTCooking
  • Washington Post
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Financial Times
  • Tumblr
  • Facebook Pages
  • Medium
  • Reddit
  • Apple News1

I can and should pay for some of these outlets; a good citizen values a free and open press (that you pay for, naturally). Just this month I bit the bullet and got a New York Times account. I appreciate the Times’ reporting, but it’s quite verbose and I rarely am able to read an entire article. My subscription is primarily for the Cooking and the Crosswords and, silly me, I thought after paying I would get an ad free experience… but I guess not.

My bank account is starting to feel the drip, drip, drip of monthly subscriptions: NYT, Spotify, Apple Arcade, Maximum Fun, 8 Patreons, 5 OpenCollectives, and 5 different video streaming platforms. Paying $5~$10/month for every content creator you enjoy doesn’t seem like a sustainable future. My main objection is how the relative value shifts greatly over the course of a month. Over a month, my interests ebb and flow and I’d like my contributions to be more fluid as well, without getting multiple autopayment processors involved.

I’m still bullish on technologies like Coil which is based on the Interledger Specification. The hype machine around Coil has iced off in recent months, but I was pleased to see the recent announcement that Firefox Reality is using Coil for Web Monetization as well as the launch of Cinnamon, a new Coil-based video platform. These both divert funds directly to the content creator. There are some (financial and ecological) concerns with these crypto-backed ledgers I don’t want to ignore, but we’re long overdue for some form of passive or active micropayments for the Web. There are tradeoffs, but if we can move the needle to attention-based monetization as opposed to a service-based or a privacy-sacrificing ad-based model, I think the Web will be better off.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a critical mass of paying users for the majority of content creators, apps, and publications to accept this new future. It’s a chicken-egg thing. A lot of us work on the Web, make money off the Web, laugh at memes on the Web, and yet use ad blockers. I think it’s worth investing $5/month to see if we can truly disrupt content creation and unbind ourselves from one of the Web’s biggest performance, privacy, and security pain points.

I’m happy to have skin in the game2 but the plan doesn’t work unless we hit that critical mass and we all chip in. It doesn’t become a standard unless we can convince more browsers (beyond Brave and Firefox) to support this effort. Without an alternative, we’ll never be able to smash the paywall.

  1. Eagle-eyed readers will note Apple News+ is technically not a website and is a native app. But let’s be honest, it’s just a fancy RSS reader with slippery swipe navigation and a subpar video experience compared to a web app 🌶. God bless proprietary markup schemas.

  2. At time of writing, I have contributed $40 to Coil and garnered ~119 XRP which is currently valued at ~$22 and the value of XRP is half of where it was when I started.