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Ask HN: Should Paywalled Articles Be Penalized?
24 points by droffel 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments
Hackernews is basically the front page of my internet. I view the front page multiple times a day, and enjoy reading the myriad interests of the community. Lately though, I've noticed my experience taking a turn for the worse - repeated articles with paywalls hastily slapped in front of them.

Perhaps I just have a fond view of the past, but paywalls didn't seem nearly as prevalent a year ago, and it seems like this problem is only going to get worse before it gets better (if it gets better at all).

I doubt this will get much traction, but I want to open up a discussion as to potential approaches HN can take to remedy this situation. Should paywalled articles be flagged visibly as such from the front page (so I know not to bother)? Should they be disallowed entirely? Is this just a made up problem, and I'm just yelling into the wind? I'm not sure.

If there's a workaround, it's ok. Users usually post workarounds in the thread. Please see:


and https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

and https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20paywall&sort=byDate&...

Paywalls suck and are annoying, but HN would be worse without WSJ, NYT, the New Yorker, the Economist, and so on. Hopefully someone will eventually fix publishing on the web, and then we won't have either the paywall problem or the paywall complaint problem.

Usually some kind person posts an Outline link or an Archive link to the full article in the discussions. But I’ve also seen those get buried in the discussions about the article. My problem with paywalls is that even if you pay, most of them [1] still thrust trackers (including third party ones) and scripts on you. I find that to be evil. So I refuse to play that game with them and stay away.

To your point, what I’d like to see is a non-paywalled link, whenever shared by someone in the discussions, “pinned to the top” without any votes for it (or assigned a fixed number of votes). Considering that the default interface of HN is all about minuscule fonts that most people won’t even notice, the “web” option is not discoverable by everyone (and seriously, what does “web” even mean when you’re already on the web?). Hence a pinned comment with the same font and size as the rest of the comments, but with an indicator showing it’s pinned.

[1]: As an exception, Ars Technica is the only bigger site I know where a paid subscription means you don’t get any ads or trackers.

>Usually some kind person posts an Outline link or an Archive link to the full article in the discussions.

OP is probably asking because recent changes broke all the common workarounds for some major sites:

1. HN's built-in "web" button (basically a Google redirect)

2. outline.com

3. archive.org

Currently all three workarounds are broken for New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others.

They seem receptive to an entirely clean incognito browser. If you haven't cleared cookies and history etc or relaunched the usual workarounds fail. There's a few addons that will automate.

Turning off JS works for 9 out of 10 paywalls. There's a selection of addons that let you turn on or off JS on a per site basis.

No, if anything they should be prioritized (though perhaps below ShowHn, AskHn, and notable bloggers.

Where hacker news aggregates articles interesting to the technology community, many of the best researched articles are going to be from outfits that are selling articles instead of a captive audience.

Given the ire of digital advertising, invasive targeting, Amazon fake reviews, Facebook uninstalls, and Google avoidance; it seems that paying publishers for articles would be the top course of action to avoid bias, idea pollution, clickbait, etc.

The next similar source of topical information that's not tracking, only selling viewers as consumers, and has any viability is volunteers posting personal non-monetized blogs... Which would lack funding or efforts to journalistically research. That is at least absent state media companies like the BBC.

Like digital advertising sucks becuase tracking and privacy implcations. I dont think that is a good reason alone to promote pay walled articles. Alot of these sites even if you pay track users. So no dang differnce, but now a lot people cant read the article.

/s/can't/choose not to

While I suspect the average hacker news commenter can afford the discretionary income to subscribe to the nytimes and Washington Post, I also suspect most have access to the publications at their local public library, if not more locally at their place of business, or other places with news publications available.

As a "news aggregator site" , I suspect there is some quality increase if the community has enough interest in news to put some of these minimal efforts forward.

The quantity of nytimes articles posted and the popularity of those from votes to comments to thorough discussion indicates that a significant portion of the community derives value from these paid sources.

To be contrary, the times gets many more posts than the BBC, nih, and posts from other available free sources (Berkely, Stanford, MIT student papers or research) seem much more rare.

Uh hemmmm... So now paid publishers are: a) unbiased b) don't sell clickbait c) well researched d) non invasively targeted...

Holy shit batman. Do you work for the NY Times?

This comment breaks more than one of the site guidelines. Would you please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules when posting here? We'd appreciate it.

I wouldn't say penalised. They should very likely need to be titled appropriately though. ie.

Paywall: <some shitty NY Times article>

That said, some other articles should highlight that they are paid for by think tanks or whatever other shitty agenda agency is behind them.

How about labeling them?

Eg for old links we have (2016), we could have eg: (2016, paywalled)

I think one of the problems is that "paywalled" isn't always a binary thing; I can't count the number of times I've visited a link from HN and read an article, then gone to the comments to see people complaining about the paywall. And vice-versa - sometimes I find a paywalled article that none of the regular tricks seems to work for, but everybody's in the comments quoting and talking about the article. So it might not be as easy as just banning or labeling paywalled articles.

That said, it should probably be against the site guidelines to submit hard-paywalled articles; if the vast majority of the site's users can't read it, what's the point?

> if the vast majority of the site's users can't read it, what's the point?

Lots of articles from a particular paywalled publication getting submitted and upvoted could be taken as a useful signal that it's a publication worth paying for.

That's what the web link intends to solve.

It's not intuitive, and it's pretty kludgey, but it works. Click it on the next e.g. WSJ article that pops up and then pick the WSJ article from within Google's results - et voila, (likely) no paywall.

And the other sites... eh, if it's that valuable, someone will probably dump it.

I do actively avoid links to paywall services and it can be a bummer to see multiple of them on the front page.

Completely agree, it’s decreasing my engagement because to me those articles are just noise.

I had an idea, perhaps HN could wrap content in outbound links (ie trackable) and disallow commenting/voting on content for users who haven’t followed the outbound link? I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the voting is done based solely on headlines (and this is often reflected in the comments addressing the headline much more than the article - not that I’m completely innocent of that myself). People would probably be less likely to upvote something if they got paywalled

I hate this pervasive attitude that paywalls are some sort of annoyance that sites just "hastily slap on" for no reason. They do it because the subscription is how they make money, so that they can pay people to write all those articles that you want to read.

Thousands of us pay for the subscriptions that enabled those articles to be written, while others complain about how annoying it is that they can't read them too. If you find that there are a lot of articles from a site you want to read but can't because of the paywall, that should be a hint that it's probably worth paying for.

Most of the major sites' subscriptions are very affordable, and they can only continue producing that content because some of us are willing to pay for it. Paywalls seem more common now because the old model of giving everything away for free doesn't work.

The problem I have with paywalls is that I will not subscribe to a random site. Ever. It’s not realistic for me to subscribe to the Times, WSJ, plus all the others. I subscribe to what I subscribe to.

Companies with paywalls will fail. They are failing slowly. The Times is perhaps most successful, but they are still spiraling downwards.

I think smarter companies will be ad supported or Patreon or some other business model that will work.

I don’t begrudge bad companies for trying to hang onto their models. But what’s annoying is when I forget about a paywall and click through to be annoyed.

I would like a feature in HN to filter out those articles because I can’t read them. Circumventing their blocks is possible, but annoying.

If the company produces content that the rest of HN feels is quality content... maybe you should subscribe if you're interested in consuming the content?

You don't have to, but it's either that or perpetuate ad networks that spread malware.

I’m not interested enough to subscribe. It’s cool that others find it valuable enough to subscribe.

But I think there are fewer and fewer willing each year, so they’ll die out.

It reminds me of the record companies in 2000 who talked about value and whatnot while they all died off. It’s cool that people liked paying, but the writing was on the wall.

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