Yes, This is very unfortunate. I was just getting into study there fascinating free pages.:-C
I would try to fork out the 50 (insert currency) / year. I think it is worth it, especially if you are serious about world birding and keeping track of your current list and future plans...
I wouldn't be able to resist bias I'm afraid, there's a couple of people at least that I know, from whom I wouldn't accept anything!
Hence the accusations of quantity over quality?
I agree with you Andy.
I have no interest in uploading lists, or reading others' daily lists (careful trip reports are another matter).
My impression of ebird is that it is like internet comment forums and similar in that a few fanatics upload loads of stuff, so the overall thing is very un-representative.
I was really annoyed when Cornell sent me mails telling me that they would give me a couple of months' free access to Birds of America as an incentive to move my subscription over to Cornell without any thought as to whether I would have any interest in American birds. I have never birded there, and probably never will.
I think you are going to be seeing soon that IOC and Clements are going to have very similar taxonomies soon, especially since there has been a bit of behind the scenes changes at IOC.
ALSO, re: research being free: HBW was for the most part not a source of original research, just a condensed summary of it. Now, a lot of that research is locked behind a paywall, which I something I dislike as a researcher myself. If I am paying a journal to publish something, why is the journal then turning around and charging people to use it? Especially when I am using grant money, which probably came from public funds, to pay for it.
Also I can't help but feel birders have it super easy, with multiple free world checklists that are updated annually, as well as several other easy to access resources (like this website). I have been trying to track down changes in reptile or mammal taxonomy, for my Covid lockdown list revisions. Most of those checklists may only be updated once or twice a decade, and some are horribly arranged with no clear indication of changes. Going through and having to do a genus level search in google scholar for all North American herp taxa just to figure out what new species and taxonomic changes have appeared is incredibly time intensive, and its still easy to miss things.
I feel the best distribution maps are a combination of xeno-canto (the guy making the maps is serious about updating them whenever he receives info left or right), and the actual sightings (with pictures!) in e.g. ebird. So I very much welcome the birds of the world website, because it combines the (relatively ok) maps of hbw with the actual ebird sightings in one view. I hope that they will work on ssp maps... a bit like xeno canto is visualizing distribution on the map, of those ssp you can separate by voice
Another potentially less expensive way to get BOTW is to become a member of the AOS; membership gives you access. If you are a student or retired this will be cheaper than paying via CLO, plus you get lots more. Otherwise it would be cheaper to go via CLO directly.