I’ve been meaning to write a response to William’s blog post of a few weeks ago about the news that some publishers (including Rupert Murdoch) are preparing to start charging for some of their content. I agree with William that people will be unlikely to buy a subscription to, for example, The Sun or Times Online but I’m not sure that is what is being proposed.
As William says in his blog post:
I don’t buy my internet news in a newspaper, I pick it out from a broad and fast-moving stream of fragments and favourites and recommendations garnered from twitter, blogs, feeds and aggregators and it’s all free. I might want one little piece of the Guardian one day, two little pieces of the Times the next, I don’t want either all the time so why should I buy 12 month’s worth?
That’s how I consume content as well – piece by piece, fragments from a large number of websites. This, it seems to me, is the key issue: people don’t mind paying tiny amounts of cash for little pieces of content, it’s just that there isn’t an easy-to-use, trusted third party system like that in place for news content.
There are in music and movies. iTunes and NetFlix, and LoveFilm in the UK, all provide users with the ability use a single system to buy movies and music (and games and apps) from many different publishers. Xbox users can use NetFlix on a subscription basis, and last week Virgin and Universal made the announcement that they are launching an eat-as-much-as-you-like service for MP3s.
So, there are models out there that seem to work, or look extremely promising, and it’s clear that people will pay for certain types of content if you make the experience seamless and brainlessly easy.
Now, it appears that similar services may exist for newspaper and magazine publishers. Journalism Online are launching a service will provide users with a password-protected website where they can buy subscriptions that work across multiple sites, and individual articles from many publishers. The Publisher has some control over setting the price and Journalism Online will add value by negotiating licensing and royalty fees with intermediaries provide insight data that will help publishers optimise circulation revenue and maintain traffic to support advertising revenue.
That sounds pretty interesting.
Just to be clear, I think it would be madness for newspapers to try and put everything back behind a pay wall. The most likely model to emerge is a hybrid one where I continue to enjoy a lot of free content and the conversations that exist around that content, but when I want to go deeper or consume richer content then *sometimes* I should expect to pay a small amount for it.
After years of getting it for free on the Web, it won’t be easy for publishers to start charging for even some of their content but there may be no choice. Personally, I am willing to pay a small amount to make sure that I am properly informed, and although I think citizen media is often quicker than traditional media I still want to live in a world where there are professional – and accountable – news organisations. I know this is not a view that everyone will subscribe to, but it’s not clear how else news media in particular will be able to remain in business.
The answer is almost certainly a bit of everything:
- Ecommerce – newspapers and magazines already sell directly to their readers, but could do a lot more of this, including providing more paid-for online services. The role of online community in this is obvious
- Micropayments and subscription – along the lines envisaged by Journalism Online
- Advertising and sponsorship – an important but smaller part of the mix
Anyway – these are my half-formed thoughts. I’m willing to be persuaded either way. I’ve also heard that the new iPhone SDK makes it easy for developers to build micropayments into the apps they make. Not sure if this is true but does this hold out the tantalising possibility that the iPhone and iTunes could be the digital wallet we’re all waiting for? I already find it a bit too easy to spend money on iTunes!