A new study (news summary here, actual manuscript here) suggests if The New York Times had done a better job justifying its paywall, response would have been more positive.
Of course, the NYT paywall is doing quite nicely, thank you very much. So there's a bit of research vs. reality here.
The study authors did a neat trick. They surveyed NYTimes readers before the paywall went live, then surveyed them again. Here's the gist of the results:
Results suggest that fairness is a key market constraint that applies equally to consumer interactions on the Internet as to traditional commercial transactions. When participants were provided with a compelling justification for the paywall—that the NYT was likely to go bankrupt without it—their support and willingness to pay increased. In contrast, when participants were provided with a justification that emphasized financial stability, their support and willingness to pay decreased. It is possible that this latter condition simply confirmed participants' sense that the paywall was unfair, rather than providing a compelling profit justification. Either way, results suggest that content providers could benefit from more thorough attempts to justify price structures.
In other words, give a good reason and consumers are more accepting of a paywall.