Hello! This article is part of a Death by 1000 Cuts series that shines a light on glaring software development industry failures. I'm confident you'll return to 1000 articles someday.

Information paywalls are an unsustainable business practice and a detriment to society. Let’s take Medium, for example. It’s a blogging platform that forces users to pay for content they’ve held hostage. How is this helpful for the average human being? It’s not, but thanks to people that buy into their Ponzi scheme, we are subjected to this bullshit. Medium has convinced people they are necessary middlemen, and your blog will only fly with them. It’s a lie.

The Internet’s Own Boy

Have you heard about a brilliant young man who died fighting against information paywalls? In The Internet’s Own Boy, they tell a tragic tale about Aaron Schwarz, who took his own life in 2013. Why did he take his own life? The American justice system made an example by threatening him with thirty-five years in prison for downloading files illegally.

Aaron hung himself before the trial ended. I don’t know what was going through Aaron’s mind when he took his own life, but it doesn’t matter. Aaron brought down an unjust paywall, and he paid the ultimate price.

In 2015 JSTOR made 86 million by digitizing back issues of academic journals. JSOR is the repository of data that Aaron accessed, which he believed should be free. They shouldn’t; why wasn’t this an open-source project? It should have been, and Aaron might be alive today.

Restricted News

I used to read Reuters, but alas, no more. I won’t pay for news articles. I sympathize with journalists, but this is not the way. If a news organization can guarantee they aren’t publishing fake news, I’ll pay for that.

Information Paywall

The restricted news paywall is a severe problem. People that can’t afford rent aren’t paying for news. These people are less informed because news organizations have yet to find a business model that makes sense.

Media organizations joined in a race to the bottom when Internet blogs started competing with them. Now they believe locking their content is the right approach.

A suitable business model for news organizations includes making dependable and verifiable content. It will have done comparative data analysis to get to the truth. Save me time researching, and I’ll pay.

Data Depreciation

Data loses value over time. Otherwise known as data decay, data depreciation is a great reason to skip capitalizing on it. A company will make short-term profits by holding data hostage, but it’ll never realize the maximum value.

People appreciate open data that helps them solve problems. Available data creates business partnerships and improves lives.


Let’s stop feeding the paywall beast.

Here are ways to free the world of information paywalls.

  1. Don’t pay for information behind a paywall.
  2. Create open-source versions of paywalled content.
  3. Solicit news organizations that provide high-value open content.
  4. Support services like Unpaywall, Open Access Button, and Kopernio.

Don’t get me wrong. People should get paid for creating content, but companies shouldn’t charge for the content they didn’t make.

JSTOR didn’t create academic journals; they capitalized on them. News organizations didn’t make the news; they wrote about it.

There are many layers of problems behind the information paywall. These solutions won’t fix these problems but will help starve the beast.

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