The age of the media paywall is (almost) fully upon us and it’s has me doing arithmetic.

If I had to put a formula to it, it would be something like x = ? + ? + ?, where x is the amount of media money I’m willing to spend and the questions marks are fees per media. It’s fair to say that the number of question marks is limited and x will be reached fairly quickly.

That’s made me cautious about sharing my credit-card number with any of the news media that want a glimpse of it.

I’m not sure newspapers, in building their paywalls, realized that one of the effects would be that at least some readers now need to be convinced that there is actual, personal (as opposed to societal) value in what they are producing.

A couple of decades ago, I paid to have three newspapers, two local and one national, delivered to my door. The decision was pretty easy: those newspapers were not only the most relevant at the time, they were also the most readily available. At lot has changed in two decades, not the least of which is what’s relevant to me. And, today “readily available” describes just about every media outlet anywhere in the world.

Now, if a media company wants my money, it has to convince me that it’s valuable to me.

The idea that media has to prove itself to me is interesting. Before, I guess, I paid for whatever value I deduced with my attention. Now they want money for it and I’m very much more aware that I want to get my money’s worth. (I’ve never believed I should support the local media “just because,” nor do I buy the argument that the life or death of any particular outlet equals the life or death of journalism.)

So far, I’m proceeding cautiously. A chunk of the available paywall budget went to the New Yorker a week or so ago, because there was an article I really want to read. I could have bought that issue, but the value of having that magazine on the iPad every week won out.

Some of what I’m willing to pay is also getting soaked up by sites such as The Ativist, and others selling stories at by-the-piece rates.

Most likely – based on the number of times I’ve had to switch browsers after hitting a page-meter limit – the next decision I will have to make is whether the Globe & Mail gets some cash. In recent weeks, there have been a number of pieces that are pointing me to an online subscription. The excellent The China Dairies Diaries series by Mark McKinnon and John Lehmann comes to mind as journalism of value that is worth paying for.

(I should note that, through the university, I can have access to the full Globe & Mail package. There is something in me, though, that says that if I truly find it of value, I should pay for it.)

Beyond that, I’m not sure. There’s a world of journalism out there, much of which will remain free because while I may enjoy an occasional piece from Edmonton or Seattle or Tampa Bay or wherever, there’s no continuing value in access beyond the eight or 10 pages per month that slip outside the paywall.

(Of course, media can still get some cash from me by re-publishing large-scale journalism projects as e-books. I buy an inordinate number of books and many of them are impulse buys.)

The problem for my local newspapers is that, so far, they’re not in the mix. Twitter is as effective as anything has been in tipping me to the breaking – and not-so-breaking – news of the city and province, and if I want more I can dive deeper. And, in truth, the older I get, the more the news junkie in me fades. I’m still a journalism junkie – but I only want the really good stuff –, while the need to be constantly in the know about everything is less and less important.

I’m not sure if this process of carefully adjudicating where the paywall money will be spent is something others are going through, too. I read a while ago (sorry, I’ve forgotten where) one man reporting that the fact he was allowed only 10 articles a month was causing him to pause and carefully weigh the value of each article he was tempted to click on, resulting in far fewer clicks than he was used to making.

(Update: Chad Skelton has helpfully provided me with a link to the post mentioned above: The Beneficial Impact of Newspaper Paywalls on Users. Thanks, Chad.)

This whole process of determining the value of individual media titles is deeply interesting. I let you know how it works out.

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