Free lost. In the fight between content being free and easily consumable, paid for by adverts, and users having to pay for the articles they read, free lost.
Monthly subscriptions add up fast
Browsing the internet used to be a cheap and easy thing to do. You paid for your connection and then you were away. You could move from site to site reading everything, and back then it was almost only reading, without fear of having to pay extra. But now when you visit many sites you are barred from viewing their content without giving them an additional payment. And these can add up quickly.
Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime seem like essentials for everyone these days. On top of these, you might have a couple of other subscriptions. Stuff like Dropbox, Microsoft Office, Medium, Audible or Instapaper. Add on to these a couple of news subscriptions, cause you want to get the full picture, right? Every day it looks like there is another Software as a Service (SaaS) product launching and everyday it looks like another monthly subscription makes your bank balance slightly smaller.
So, welcome to subscription hell. Welcome to pops up poking you to fork over dollars or pounds to read beyond the frontpage. Welcome to a thousand little cuts bleeding your bank account dry.
Newspapers, paywalls and adverts
Massive names in the market have put their online content behind a paywall. The New York Times and the Washington Post have enjoyed perhaps the most success with this new model. They are frequently held up as the leading lights of the newspaper world. But in a world where there is still a lot of free stuff – more than enough to fill a lifetime of reading – how did this model win out?
Ads have been used to support newspapers and journalism since Benjamin Day launched the New York Sun in 1833. This was in a period of increasing literacy when many people who had learnt to read could not afford the high prices for the newspapers of the age. An expanding and emancipated middle class demanded and were given news and insight. That demand has never gone away. The move to the internet has actually increased the demand for content. News can be consumed wherever you are, at home, on the bus, in the car and has been freed from the physical object of newsprint.
At first, it was thought that you could simply take the existing business model of newspapers and put it online. Ads placed alongside stories and banners on the homepage would replace the lost print revenue. But with the complete dominance of Google and Facebook over digital advertising newspapers began to lose out.
The number of people visiting news sites began to fall as well. This was, however, not because of a fall in interest. Instead, Facebook changed its algorithm which determined which stories users would see. If publishers wanted their articles to appear in a person’s newsfeed more often than not they would not have to sponsor the post.
So publishers switched to paywalls and subscription services to get money out of their users.
The paywall method hasn’t completely won – there are still some sites out there that depend still on ad revenue. But a lot of the major players are switching to the new business model. This is because they can. A little blog-publishing entries on niche topics would not be able to charge for content. But a newspaper with a century’s long history, winning many Pulitzer prizes over their long lifetime can. So, they will.
The Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, the Economist, the Telegraph, the Times, and Bloomberg, among many others, have followed a similar plan as the New York Time and the Washington Post.
This has created an environment where most people are cut off from most journalism. Even if you have a couple of subscriptions it would be unreasonable to have access to all of them. The cost adds up quickly, even if there was time enough to read all you wanted. That is not counting subscription services people might pay for apart from news.
Now people stick to their chosen publication. You might meet a New York Times subscriber who has a different outlook on the world because they don’t read what the Economist is writing about. These walls create divisions. They are there to separate the haves from the have nots. They create an artificial dichotomy.
How to get out of subscription hell
The argument for paywalls is compelling. People need to make money to survive. Rent, food and other bills add up, and there would be no professional journalists if all content was free. And professionals are better than amateurs. All content being free would damage people’s ability to learn about the world about them and take part in society effectively. But people do not like paying for things – especially when you can get them for free.
But the fragmented news landscape and the many competing services is damaging. Seeing the same angle every day from the same papers and journalists creates a skewed vision of the world. People are also paying for stories which they may never read or want to read. Local New York news won’t be appealing to a London-based subscriber, but they still have to pay for it. America sports news does not really effect the global market these papers attract. Yet those international subscribers still have to pay for it.
What needs to happen is for there to be one convenient place to consume news and opinion from across the broad spectrum of publishers. A place where you can get the best reporting from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Times, the Financial Times and everyone else who has blocked off their content.
We will bring together this world-leading journalism in one place, for one affordable monthly subscription. It will take the best pieces, those that people are most interested in, and give people real insight into what is going on with views from across the political spectrum. It will be a way out of subscription hell.