Time magazine writes an article this week on “How to Save Your Newspaper.” Their conclusion? Micropayments. Basically, allow people to pay a small fee, like 5-25 cents for every article they read. The dominant platform for this doesn’t really exist since Paypal charges fees too large to make this viable. I used to think that this was a perfect business for Google to be in: you Google something, see the price (if any) for the content, and click the credit button on your Google toolbar to pay for the article/result. But, regardless, even with a good platform for micropayments I don’t think it’ll work. Why? Because I don’t think I’d pay to read an article ala carte that I’m not sure I’ll like. I imagine the abandon rate on articles is very high. Though, I suppose this might be because it’s free, but I don’t think so.
So what would work for the reporting business?
1) Content wants to be free on the web. Or, rather, we want everything to be free on the web, but we also want it to be valuable. That’s why I believe the sustainable future for deep reporting (magazines + newspapers) will lie in the device. This might mean the Kindle and the evolving world of smart subscriptions. Might I pay, say $2 a month, for the NY Times on my Kindle? I say definitely. In fact, I’d probably pay higher. But at the $2 pricepoint, and with an variable distribution cost of near zero, I’d bet that we’re talking many millions of people who would pay that amount. The economics of print– delivery, printing presses, etc are zero’ed out and we’re left with a far more efficient cost structure. This should translate into a more economical cost, which, I would think, will increase the number of people who will opt to pay. Would I pay to read this on my Mac over the Interwebs? That feels tough to me. Would I pay to have the NY Times “delivered” to my Kindle every morning and auto-updated as the day goes on? Oh yes. Now it might not be the kindle. Maybe it’s the iPhone or whatever other device comes next. Which reminds me that I’m baffled why the NY Times iPhone app is free. It is positively insane. Charge a couple of dollars up front or a small recurring charge. The app is pretty damn amazing (it downloads the content locally so you can read from the plane, subway, etc!).
2) OK, so micropayments might actually work. But not the way everyone talks about them (as basically small debit card payments). I think it could work if we give people credit for doing things on the web. Say I take a survey or watch a commercial. This should give me some credit points that I can use on articles or whatever else. This seems pretty damn obvious to me. Why can’t the NY Times offer a choice of 15 second “commercials” on their site, and I have to watch one of them in order to have access to the site for a session? Or credits to use on articles. This is kind of a no brainer to me. In fact, I should go start a company that does this across the web. Why the hell am I updating my blog when I should be working on this idea?…