Awhile back I discussed some of the flaws in the business model for online news subscriptions. Namely, where sites like the New York TimesWall 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:

Support the Guardian from as little as $1.

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.

One-time payments!

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!

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.

I’ve only got 9 article remaining – better make them count!

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.

A friend sent me this email today from Google fiber:

His first response to me says it all:

Didn’t know there was an issue but thanks Google!

Meanwhile I had similar issues this past week with Comcast.

Did they get ahead of the issue and reach out to me before I was aware of the issue? No.

Did they offer me a credit as “paying for something while it doesn’t work, just doesn’t work”? No.

Did they even apologize for the outage? No.

No product or service is perfect. Issues will happen and I’m ok with that. The difference is all in how your company handles them.

You can tell your customers that you care until you’re blue in the face, but I’d recommend building companies that spend their time showing their customers that they care by their actions. In the meantime, since I don’t have another high speed internet alternative, I hope you’re listening @ComcastCares.

Flown lately? If so, have you seen this sign?

Why Yes TSA, there are plenty of ways you could improve the airport security experience! But before that can happen you first need to improve how collect this feedback. And QR codes aren’t the answer.

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Before reading this week’s post, spend a few minutes and listen to this podcast from Planet Money.

No! Burger

I have this unusual aversion to one of Atlanta’s trendy burger joints, Yeah! Burger.

Unusual because I like a good burger a lot! I frickin’ love them. When I worked at BlueFletch burgers were my ‘flare’.

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And for that matter, I like Yeah! Burgers’ burgers. But they’re not on my list. Thing is, I’ve had trouble figuring out why, or where this aversion came from.

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Recently I went to the grand opening of Polygon Atlanta, a new events space over at Atlantic Station. I say “events space” as Polygon is explicitly not (yet another) co-working space.

What better way to kick off a space for “Web, Tech & Creative Events” than with an intro by Jared Spool?


So Jared asks the question, “Is Design Metrically Opposed?”

Nope, it isn’t.

Well that was easy. Ok, yes there’s more to it…

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I still remember when I was old enough to get a job and my Dad’s rules about jobs. Sure we had to get jobs, but not just any job. It needed to be a service job.

It had nothing to do with the money. He felt that everyone could benefit from a little time on the other side of the counter at some point in their life. Waiting tables, working the McDonald’s cash register, cleaning cars at the local Waterway…

See the thing is, customers have a habit of being needy, irrational, demanding and more. Learning to work directly with these customers teaches communication, empathy, and sales skills no school education can replicate.

I still genuinely enjoy talking to customers – probably too much so as I should be spending more time elsewhere. But it’s an activity I feel strongly about and so wanted to share how I do it.

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The other day this event showed up in my inbox looking for attendees:

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UX Thursday, hosted by Jared Spool.

I’m trying to beef up my UX knowledge so it had my attention. When one of my officemates, who knows his stuff when it comes to design, added that whenever he sees Jared Spool speak he’s always come away with 3 to 4 amazing takeaways, I was sold.

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