You’ve likely seen something like this at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, HBR or one of countless other online news and content sites.
Making readers subscribe to online content is broken
This isn’t about trying to avoid paying for content, but rather a simple exercise in scale.
When newspapers were the norm you had a handful to pick from in town so there wasn’t an issue choosing the one you liked the most and subscribing to it. You might have even been an overachiever and had a weekend subscription to the WSJ or USA Today too!
The model of the internet, however, gives us the wonderful benefit of the long tail. We no longer only have two or three papers to choose from, but rather thousands and thousands of papers, blogs and more. And that’s an incredibly good thing! The problem now is that there’s too much choice, presenting a separate problem of finding the content you want.
Enter newsletter aggregators. I see a new one pop up every week. Possibly my favorite, Hacker Newsletter, perfectly exemplifies why online article subscription doesn’t work. This past week’s newsletter contained links to articles from 43 unique sites.
Three Cases Against Online Content Subscriptions
1. It’s simply not financially reasonable nor logistically a pleasant experience to manage subscriptions to even a fraction of those 43 sites.
2. Perhaps more importantly, especially as we’ve learned in the US with our last Presidential election, when you get your content from a single source you get trapped in a Filter Bubble. We should make it easier for people to expand their perspectives, not the opposite.
3. Again looking at our last election’s issue with Fake News, I have a suspicion that when you pay for content you subconsciously become more likely to believe it without critique or skepticism.
To be sure these are businesses that need to bring returns to their shareholders, but a content subscription model in an online world is the wrong way.