Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

ESPN Tries Rebuilding the Pay Wall For Its Magazine

espn-magHere’s another big media player trying — very cautiously — to get people to pay for online media: Disney’s ESPN (DIS) is going to put the Website for its “ESPN the Magazine” title behind a paywall this summer.

BusinessWeek’s Jon Fine, who broke the story, has most of the relevant details, but here’s an important one I didn’t see: ESPN reps tell me that the magazine accounts for less than 10%  of the content available on So most of the stuff that people are used to getting for free at will remain free at

That fits nicely with the free/pay thesis I’ve been chewing on for some time now — in the future, a relatively small number of people who are wealthy and/or passionate about something will pay to access some Web content, and the rest of us will be happy to settle for free stuff, which will need a very big audience to survive.

But I’m not sure how that will pan out with ESPN’s magazine, which seems to fall in the middle ground. I just picked up a copy last week — when I travel, I like to treat myself to a couple print magazines — and it’s nice read. But it doesn’t have the specialized stuff that allows, say, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to charge for its Green Bay Packers “Insider” site, or even the data-heavy stuff that ESPN’s Insider sells to fantasy sports nuts and/or gamblers. Or, for that matter, the fantasy sports stuff that ad-happy Yahoo (YHOO) still sells.

And if memory serves, this is actually a reversal back to an old strategy — several years ago, as I recall, only print subscribers had access to the magazine’s online pages. Be interesting to see if anyone’s more willing to pay for it now.

UPDATE: A little more nuance, via some people knowledgeable with ESPN’s thinking. Internally, the company thinks of the move as a way to bolster its paid Insider product, since anyone who ponies up for Insider will get the magazine for free. And the company and will end up shifting some resources from the magazine to the Insider.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work