Daily Tedium

Tear Down This Paywall

Bloomberg thinks you should pay them tens of thousands of dollars a year and subscribe to its terminal to read its old stories. The public should push back.

By Ernie Smith

Editor's note: I wrote this on Medium last night, but am also sharing here in hopes of giving this issue the attention it deserves.

I write stuff that is driven on research. It’s an important part of what I do. That research takes me weird places—into patent filings, reading news stories that are decades old, diving into snippets of old books, hoping that something—anything—will get me closer to the end of the story.

Old issues of magazines like BusinessWeek, BYTE, and Infoworld hold important value, because these are the closest things we have to first-person narratives on the pre-internet era of technology. Likewise, research-based outlets like Google Newspapers (which is free) and Newspapers.com (which isn’t) are full of hugely important stories that need to be told.

It’s hard to tell these stories when you run into a screen like this, however:

Bloomberg paywall

This screen makes my blood boil red. Because just a few weeks ago, you would have gotten the full article.

Here’s the problem: Michael Bloomberg’s company makes its money off of very expensive (but useful) terminals, which only investors and large corporations can afford. And when Michael Bloomberg went back to his roost after being mayor of New York City for more than a decade, he looked at the massive editorial infrastructure that Bloomberg built while he was gone, and simply wondered what the hell they were doing.

The internet’s news model, generally, doesn’t help his company sell more terminals through its Bloomberg Professional service, and the former mayor at one point discussed getting rid of the website. According to the New York Times, Joshua Topolsky, who helped put together the most ambitious iteration of that website, reportedly mocked this suggestion, which apparently cost him his job.

But Michael Bloomberg’s wish to more seriously put the editorial direction of his company at the service of his terminal business means that the company has just put the collective output of thousands of journalists under a lock and key, all for the purpose of selling devices that the average person will never use.

I’m not saying that Bloomberg shouldn’t charge money for these articles if they want to. I’m saying that Bloomberg shouldn’t only allow people who pay tens of thousands of dollars to access old news stories—especially since it has the archives of a notable magazine on this website. Students trying to research important historical topics no longer have access to this information. Neither do independent journalists. Neither does the public, which might want to learn about the history of some of the people making waves in the news today that have been the subject of some of Bloomberg and Businessweek’s most important stories. You know, like the folks in the White House right now.

And for what? The sake of a few investors? Michael Bloomberg, tear down this paywall.

Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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