As public relations professionals, we all know the thrill of landing a big hit. Now imagine you land that article for your client, they go to share and when their audience tries to read it, they get this.

“We hope you’ve enjoyed your free articles for this month. Continue reading by subscribing”

Welcome to the paywall model.

We are in a digital revolution, with news available 24 hours a day at your fingertips. Because of the emphasis on digital platforms, the traditional distribution model of news as a sole model is no longer effective. According to the Pew Research Center’s annual State of the News Media report, print subscriptions are down while digital subscription numbers have increased. With The New York Times and The Washington Post as exceptions, weekday print circulation and ad revenue for newspapers is down 10 percent.

This changing media landscape has created a desire for accessible, quick news that can be read from anywhere, on any platform. While print versions are still desirable, research has found that digital subscriptions are reaching a wider audience. With the traditional subscription model on the decline, publications are being forced to get creative with revenue sources.

This includes putting more of their content behind two types of paywalls in order to encourage digital subscriptions. A hard paywall only allows subscribers to view content. A Soft paywall either divides content into free and paid categories, or allows readers to view a specific number of articles before prompting them to purchase a subscription.

The Wall Street Journal has had a paywall for 20 years. As Boston Business Journal Executive Editor Greg Walsh said at a recent breakfast, “It’s how our staff supports their families”.

Why should the publishing companies give away the milk for free and risk going out of business? They shouldn’t.

While publicists understand the reason behind this model, it creates an interesting dilemma for us. How do we suggest clients share an article that they are mentioned in that is locked under a paywall?  Encouraging them to hack around it or share a pdf version of the article obtained by a subscriber can burn bridges with journalism outlets for both the organization and the publicist.

The clearest answer is to buy a link to the article that can be shared, particularly if it’s a high profile hit. Many outlets sell unlocked links to an individual piece at a fraction of the cost of a subscription cost.  Ask if they have a discount for nonprofits and institutions of higher learning.

Clients also have the option of posting a direct link to the article with the knowledge that some readers won’t be able to see it. This may not be the most effective option, but it a path that is commonly taken.

Paywalls should not be a burden to the reader, or someone trying to share news. Instead remember the reasons behind them, and think strategically about how you or your clients can still utilize the article in a way that is ethical and financially responsible. There is a new media reality in place and there is no turning back