Awhile back I discussed some of the flaws in the business model for online news subscriptions. Namely, where sites like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and HBR require you to subscribe to their site to access content.
The reason subscriptions work in an offline content world but not online is that The Long Tail principle of the internet significantly (exponentially even?) increases the amount of sources individual readers will read content from. And this is a good thing!
And while you could argue that most of these sites give you a few free articles such that only dedicated readers would subscribe, it can still lead down a path we’ve gone down before. Managing multiple subscriptions leads to bundling multiple providers, where all of a sudden you’re subscribing to and overpaying for 194 channels of which you only watch and want to pay for 5…oh wait, were we talking about cable TV or web news subscriptions?
Micropayments as an Alternative to Subscriptions
One alternative to a content subscription model is to allow micropayments.
Here’s how micropayments would work. Instead of a small % of users paying a large, recurring, subscription fee (e.g. $10/month), the theory behind the micropayments model is that you can make this up by extracting a very small, optional, one-time payment from a very large % of users for individual articles they like (e.g. < $1/article). To be sure, this hasn’t worked well to-date, but improvements in online payment systems and even the rise of cryptotokens might make this more feasible.
(I also think micropayment models will eliminate clickbait, as content providers will only be able to make money on good content, not manipulative headlines.)
The Guardian’s Approach
Recently reading an article from the Guardian, this footer caught my eye:
They’re acknowledging the problem and offering a solution, “Support the Guardian from as little as $1.”
Clicking the link I see that the Guardian quickly falls back into old habits, enticing you to sign up for a monthly subscription:
However, look closer.
Yes, the Guardian doesn’t appear to be interested in “micro” payments, however the structure is now in place.
I’d love to see data on the revenue generated and the number of users who opt into either payment option (monthly vs one-time).
Until then, I’ve gone ahead and supported the Guardian with my first content micropayment in the hopes that it is not the last. If you also have concerns with online content subscription models I encourage you to do the same!