A failure to grasp price elasticity

To say nothing of the psychopathic nature of trolls. I cannot imagine this policy of charging for comments will work very well.

As a number of news sites eliminate their comments sections altogether, Tablet, a daily online magazine of Jewish news and culture, is introducing a new policy charging its readers to comment on articles.

As of today, a reader visiting the nonprofit site that is otherwise paywall-free will have to pay at least $2 to leave a comment at the foot of any story. The move is not part of a plan to generate any significant revenue, but rather to try and change the tone of its comments section.

Tablet has set up commenting charges of $2 a day, $18 a month and $180 a year, because “the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse),” editor in chief Alana Newhouse wrote in a post published today.

Charging for comments might work at a truly elite site like the New York Times. The level of exposure and the ability to associate one’s opinion right underneath a Paul Krugman column would be valuable to certain parties; I would have paid for such a comment-ad back when RGD came out myself.

But even at a site of modest popularity such as this one, the proposal would make no sense except as a roundabout way of banning comments without being seen to do so. This is one of the more prolifically commented sites in the blogosphere, but how many people here would pay $180 per year to comment here? I’d guess around ten or 20 people; Nate might pay that just to eliminate all the commenters from AG.

The problem is that the discourse would then be strictly limited to the same small group of people, it would become an insulated and repetitious conversation with an audience; it would become a form of conspicuous performance art. And does anyone doubt that trolls like Andrew Marston would even hesitate to cough up whatever it cost in order to buy a captive audience for his delusional meanderings?

As is the case with writers who calculate their lost sales by counting pirated copies, Tablet clearly fails to realize that someone who is willing to comment for free is not synonymous with someone who is willing to pay to comment. The latter tend to be a very small subset of the former.