Someone please create an Ez-Pass but for news paywalls. I don’t want 20 subs. I want to be able to drop off a small toll to read sprinkles of articles all over.
— Kristy Tillman (@KristyT) July 30, 2021
I think I have twenty subs — probably more — but there are news sites where I can’t justify the cost of a subscription for the amount I’d be able to read. I pay for the sites I read every day (week, month), but why isn’t it possible for me to pay a buck or so to read an article on Bloomberg News or the Financial Times, rather than (not) paying $500+ a year for one or two articles a month?
Also, there’s this part:
Yes that works for the majors. I am really more broadly thinking about an ecosytem that would make it easier for smaller shops and indies to also easily turn on the ability to monetize their writing with a frictionless experience. All the payment options are too closed right now.
— Kristy Tillman (@KristyT) July 30, 2021
I use a thing called a “library card” and acquired it at a place called a “library”. It involves a few extra steps, but usually gets more access bang for the buck than I ever come close to needing.
Scroll.com is supposed to be something sorta like this. It was recently bought by Twitter.
I have wanted this for *years*. I would gladly pay for such a subscription, whereas I’m obviously not going to pay for hundreds of them to cover all the small news outlets I end up clicking through to (and meeting paywalls) from links on blogs and other outlets.
“Library” is all well and good, but it is not a way for smaller news outlets to get any significant revenue from the hundreds or thousands of clicks they might get from their articles being linked in places like this.
Found out last night my CC has been hacked (whatever the proper verb for fraudulent charge) and now in addition to awaiting my new card I have to reach out to every fucking subscription and recurring fee I use it for–monthly, quarterly, yearly–and change the fucking card number before I start getting collection notices like the last time this happened.
And to succeed I must first remember them all.
So yes. Just not Paypal.
It’s surprisingly hard. This is what Flipboard and Apple News set out to do, but publishers don’t like it much.
The main problem is that you’re really asking for a single microtransaction layer on all media sites. To start off with, you’ve got some antitrust challenges with that, which is why Apple tries to move it to the device layer. You also have the problem of microtransactions having relatively large overhead, so it doesn’t leave much money for the publisher, and even less after the 3rd party broker has been paid. And it’s a fairly low margin business, so the broker is going to want *something* else they can make money off of, like your data, which of course is what the publisher wants but which Flipbook and Apple won’t give them.
My take is that the root problem with so many of these kinds of things is that they require a natural monopoly to actually work, and a weak profit motive. That suggests to me that it’s a good place for a public service. Have the USPS produce the transaction layer. They don’t care about the profits, they can scale, not run afoul of antitrust, and don’t want the data. Tie it into a basic banking service through the USPS and they can even eliminate much of the transaction costs by making it a debit rather than a credit card transaction.
Otherwise, maybe someone like Apple comes up with a scheme the publishers like better, but it’ll need to leverage local device authentication to mitigate fraud without the transaction turning into enough of a PITA that you won’t bother. Well, or Facebook.
If I see an article I want to read behind a paywall, I usually go to msn or yahoo news and find it there for free. But a micropayment system would be aces.
Seems to me there should be a multi-tiered payment scheme for newspapers (at the very least). The Miami Herald just did this for the condo collapse; everything collapse related was free.
Right now, I’m dealing with the digital subscription to my local (San Luis Obispo) newspaper; the daily print edition is a sick joke so, after a HUGE local story occurred a couple of months ago, I subscribed for a month, then cancelled when the story became dormant.
Should have taken the offer (it was $7.99 a month) as now the story is very much alive again so I tried to sign up again. The offer was $39.99 a month and I declined. I think the last and final offer was $24.99 a month (and I hung up the phone). It wasn’t so much the cost as me getting kinda pissed for getting jerked around.
Trollhattan, did your daughter (IIRC) select Poly? If so, she would certainly have heard about this story. It’s kinda famous at this point. Hell, just the number of eyeballs from around the world clicking on a free story should pay decently from only the advertising revenue.
@Martin: The thing is, the technical layer for it isn’t actually that hard. But as you say, getting businesses aligned and subscribed to it is hard. In order to generate interest, you need a large group that’s already signed up or its not worth it for either subscribers or publishers.
It also has the potential to degrade publisher control and payment, which they’re not going to be happy about. Why share a $20 subscription with 10 other dudes if you can ask for $5 and know you’ll get it?
Impressive memory, thanks for asking! She ended (improbably) at St Mary’s where she managed to have a sort of normal freshman year. I put unfair pressure on her for Poly or Santa Barbara because dad wanted to visit, darn it all, but I think her choice was wise, ultimately.
Presume it’s the Smart story you’re referencing. Gets significant coverage here as well.
Good lord there’s an NFL game on now.
@trollhattan: Understand the interest in Dad visiting. SLO is kinda paradise.
Yes, I was referring to the Smart case. Its sad that I don’t think they have a hope in hell of convicting the guy (or guys if you want to include the guys Father) unless there is something profound that hasn’t come out yet.
ETA: Poly is a lovely place but the way they handled the Smart matter is … I don’t have the words. Negligence doesn’t come close to it.
This idea has been just over the horizon for decades now. Here’s one early take, in a thesis by Karl Sun at MIT:
Sounds like a great idea in general, right, if the bugs can be worked out? Note the date of this analysis: 1997.
@MisterForkbeard: No, technically it’s pretty easy. Apple solved that problem with the iTMS back in 2003. $0.99 transactions. Someone may have beat them there, but I know from the details of how that was implemented that it really needed quite a bit of scale to even break even with a 30% cut.
The hard part (which is always the hard part, btw) is aligning the market players, getting them all to align their technology stacks to this unified one which is not a technological problem, but a cat herding one, and getting the consumers to buy in as well as it needs to store their credentials, etc.
There is an alternate path which would be to just support Apple Pay on the web, which would provide one-touch payments at least from Apple devices. But there’s really no equivalent for Windows or Android, so it’d have a narrow reach.
This would be very useful for substack. There are very few authors who are worth $60/year, but I could imagine buying a ‘magazine’ subscription to my favorite 4-10 substack authors for $60-$100/year, perhaps with a free locked article per month from other writers.
David ? ☘The Establishment☘? Koch
I love this woman
@David ? ☘The Establishment☘? Koch:
An Olympico. At the Olympics. If that’s her coda then going out on a high note. Also, too, Carly.
So cable TV for news?
John wants to monetize Balloon Juice, doesn’t he?
@Baud: Too late :D
Passed through with the extenuated fambly in 2017 without stopping – but my father would probably have agreed with you. Camp SLO was his last stop Stateside before Pearl, then Leyte, then Okinawa – and after he came back from the Korean occupation in early ’46, it is said he spent years trying to convince future-Mom to move out there. Followed Kali politics closely and developed a healthy Democratic hatred for one Richard Milhous Nixon during his first run for Congress.
I participated in a side-discussion about micro-transactions over the Internet at a software engineering conference in 1995. The Web was very young at that point. The discussion was initiated by Brad Cox, a very forward-looking man who was co-inventor of Objective-C, the preferred programming language on Apple computers for many years. A specific example Brad cited was a la carte subscriptions. We all agreed that the technical problems were not *that* hard, but “herding the cats” (as Martin said) was a very hard nut to crack.
@The Dangerman: I went to SLO for college. It’s a lovely area, and if I didn’t like my hometown even more I might have eventually moved back there.
Been there. Done that. Just a month ago or so. It sucks. Sending my sympathy.
@ReadWrite: Things are quite a bit better. Apple reinvented big parts of the transaction layer for credit cards to get Apple Pay costs down as low as they did. But it achieves that by shifting some of the transaction responsibility to the physical device, which is why Android/Windows aren’t yet there – they have very little control over the device.
So not only is there a cat herding issue, there’s also the issue of where responsibility and benefits land. Who holds the account information. Who is securing it. Who benefits from the transaction data. If these don’t matter, it’s a lot easier. But it does matter. The publishers don’t trust Apple here, not because they think Apple will blow it but because Apple has a history of taking the user experience from them. And Apple won’t hand them the personal data that they want because that trust relationship with their customers is too important.
I too started on this around the same time. ’93 for me. The web hadn’t arrived yet but we were looking at transactions to access information via Gopher. We could really only define a path that would work without invoking individual payment transactions – something closer to a prepay account with debit for each document viewed. But it shared no technology with anything else out there.
@The Dangerman: I desperately wanted to move to Los Osos at one point, but my company wouldn’t give me the opening and there were so few other jobs at the time. It is heavenly.
Channels. There need to be internet subscription channels. Big packs of general types. Like NBC and ABC and the history channel. Maybe even package of channels. I know that way too many newspapers have the same owners. Maybe if those owners gave a subscription that was good for ALL their papers and magazines on the internet, people would mostly read their own news plus some national, but they would sample other stuff and discover good reporters which would get more interest, etc. I do not subscribe to my local anymore. It wasn’t worth it. Price went up, content went down. If it had more content it would be worth more. If it sold more, it could charge less which would get more sales. I think their are magazines that have the same owners. Seems like it would be easier to trust if they already have the same owners.
That doesn’t address all the issues mentioned, it’s just an idea to get the ball rolling.
@ReadWrite: How cool!
I was in grad school (computer science) from 1991 to 1996, so I remember the WWW starting out, but I didn’t recognize its practical importance at the time. :-)
@Mary G: Los Osos living is wonderful. It’s grown up a lot since I lived there so it even nicer in some ways now. My preference though is for the Old Los Osos if that were possible. Same with Old Avila Beach. The new Avila just isn’t the same (basically the entire town was leveled because of oil spill cleanup concerns). My favorite location is Morro Bay (outstanding public golf course)which hasn’t changed much at all in 30 years.
ETA: As compared to SLO proper and most of the 5 Cities, which has changed massively in 30 years Especially SLO.
@RSA: I remember when a (now retired) colleague called me into his office and showed me these new things called Gopher and NCSA Mosaic. In college in the early ’80s, we had some U of I PLATO terminals in the Physics department, but these Gopher and Mosaic things actually looked useful!!
@Martin: Things are better, but you are right that there are so many moving parts (and money, don’t forget money!) wrapped up in this. Now, Gopher, I haven’t heard about that in a while. Wasn’t that a Sumerian technology? I think they were way ahead of Apple in the tablet space.
Gin & Tonic
A successful tech startup did this sort of thing for fitness studios and the like. There are a lot of specialized places like this: cycling, yoga, Pilates, etc. You may not want to pay the monthly fees at a half-dozen, but if you pay one fee, you can use various kinds a limited number of times. This seems to work out well (sorry.) I know publishing is more complicated, but that much more?
@Gvg: I work for a company that owns a lot of local newspapers. I’m on the tech side, not news or business, so all I know is what gets discussed, but my impression is that it’s not just herding cats, it’s also that though people want these kinds of things, the price they think it’s reasonable often turns out not to be enough to make it a worthwhile business. For example, our systems can support an “all access” subscription across our properties today, but as I understand it, that’s why it hasn’t happened. Micro-payments get talked about periodically too, and it’s a similar situation.
@Another Scott: So you are saying PLATO wasn’t useful?
Hey, cool! I’ve never actually seen PLATO in action, but I was a colleague of Don Bitzer, the father of PLATO, for all of my academic career. It’s funny discovering things about your friends in the department. “Bitzer? Right, PLATO. Oh, you don’t know about that? Well, he also co-invented plasma displays.” ?
@raven: The profs wanted us to use it, but they expected us to figure it out on our own. It wasn’t integrated into anything, it was “here’s this new thing, check it out”.
I think I sat in front of one for about 20 minutes once. I thought the display was neat (it had some depth to it, if I recall correctly), but I couldn’t get into it as a learning tool. Like so much of the technology back then (very early ’80s), the ideas were there, but the hardware was holding it back.
More like Spotify for news
@trollhattan: My card # was stolen last week and my husband’s was stolen the week before. Evidently the hackers have found a new way to get numbers.
I have been round and round with Bloomberg. They’ll have an offer for $3.99 or $7.99 or something for a few months, and then they want you to pay $35.99 a month or something ridiculous like that. And if you see the cheaper offer, they won’t let you sign up for it again. I’ve argued with them that I’m old and retired and can’t afford what they would charge a business or an investor, but it doesn’t get me far.
@RSA: I was in grad computer school in the 1970s. No www yet! But we had t-shirts that said RUCWUCA as an inside joke. It stood for database access permission: read, update, check, write, update, check, add. Why do I still remember that?
I think the basic issue is that we still don’t have a good microtransaction system for anything. I think your point about it being a low margin business is the key. Everyone looking at the internet wants to make a fuckton of money, so something that would make a nice steady profit but not turn them into the next Mark Zuckerberg just isn’t good enough to be worth the time of day.
@Roger Moore: i really don’t think that’s the biggest issue. News outlets have advertising because the amount people are willing to pay to subscribe isn’t enough to cover the costs. People who register or subscribe are valuable both because they’re more likely to seek out more from your publication, and because the advertisers can know more about them (not Facebook stalkerish stuff, just basic demographics.)
The one thing I’ve learned working for a news company is that “one-and-done” readers (like from search or Facebook) produce by far the least revenue. So there’s no business motivation to create more of them. Unless someone can solve that problem, a payments system is not the roadblock.
Similarly with the iTunes comparison – leaving aside the well-founded distrust for tech companies “helping” the news business, iTunes was competing against other download services; the music wasn’t an established subscription business. An iTunes equivalent would be Apple taking all the most valuable business and passing it on in the least valuable form, and there’s no way they’d pay producers enough to balance that.
@Redshift: Interesting. Thanks.
But, isn’t a counterpoint of that the McGraw-Hill Old Man in a Chair ad? Why is someone going to pay to subscribe if they can’t see whether the information is worth anything? Isn’t getting something, or reaching a new audience that might potentially subscribe in the future, worth something?
The Economist-type model may be the most sustainable for serious news organizations. Basically (as I understand it) they make their money from The Economist Intelligence Unit (that sells analysis to businesses and governments), and the Magazine (and presumably the website) isn’t/aren’t the big part of the business. (I think Bloomberg works the same way.)
I hate ads, block the ones I can, and never click on them (that show up in the mobile apps that I do occasionally use). I’m willing to pay for stuff I read, if it’s reasonable. Websites need to get on the stick about figuring out a model that works for people like me, I think. ;-)
[eta:] To be clear, when I’m looking for something to purchase, I do specialized searches and read reviews, etc. Ads there might get read, but not something on a website that has nothing to do with a purchase. It’s probably why FTFNYT bought The Wirecutter and just about everyone has affiliate links in “reviews”…
Cathie from Canada
There used to be Circulating Libraries set up by publishers where people paid a subscription fee to borrow the books. Maybe something like this, digitally, is what we need now too.
Sister Golden Bear
@trollhattan: If it’s St. Marys in LA, a road trip to Santa Barbara and SLO is both quite doable and a great way to do some father-daughter bonding.
@Sister Golden Bear:
Maybe they share parent privileges? :-) (Our St Mary’s is in Moraga, suburb of Lafayette.)
Yeah, that’s the reason for attracting those low-value readers (from a business perspective, the news side wants as many readers as possible, of course.) It’s the reason there are also free trials and “X free articles” setups. So I guess it’s not that there’s no reason to do it, but it’s not going to be a high priority.
But see, that’s what I’m talking about. If enough people’s idea of a reasonable amount matched what it costs to run the business producing it, there would be no ads and everyone would be happy.
In 1946 very few semi-skilled Baltimore factory workers would have recognized the name; maybe only those planning (or hoping) to relocated to the opposite coast. Future-Dad knew from the gitgo that future-Tricky Dick was beneath contempt, the smarmy Ted Crooze of his day, long before I reached this planet, and consistently despised him to the end of his time here.
Sorry I missed this thread. I hope there is more discussion in the future.
I think you are over complicating the problem. There should be some online equivalent to single copy sales of a newspaper or news articles.
Hell, I would even agree to read an ad if the news article was free.
And because of the models of radio and TV, people kinda expect news to be free, which only adds to the problem.
So what you’re saying is you want Spotify for news apps.
I claim royalties on the name ©.
“Sprinkles of articles all over” … Isn’t that basically Twitter?
True, or at least close enough.
What gets me is the disjointed arguments in the face of obvious change.
A few years ago when FTFNYT was starting to get serious about transitioning away from paper, they would have their quarterly/annual reports about how great their digital subscriptions were doing. When surely those numbers were pumped up by short-time specials that were bringing in little money (compared to what they would normally charge).
It’s like they actually don’t care about the reality of how much money they’re bringing in, they just want to have big numbers to show how hep and forward leaning and engaged their readers are. They’re still (presumably) bringing in most of their money the old fashioned way (giant ads on paper, “special advertising sections” in the magazines, bulk deliveries to businesses, maybe kickbacks from Jack and Z., etc.).
If they don’t take their digital businesses seriously, and actually work to make it affordable to very occasional readers, I’m not going to feel guilty about going around their paywall a few times a year. So, if their business model works from online ads and people who have to pay $250 a year to feed their crossword addiction, and kickbacks from other sites, that’s fine. Don’t ask me to pay to read a few sentences occasionally, and don’t try to guilt me (or spam my inbox with offers) about it.
Will that happen. Of course not!! ;-)
Sure, I’ll go for one of these “toll card” thingies for my news and views site. Naturally I’ll have to get more payment than everyone else because I’m just that much better, but I’m sure they’ll all agree so no problem, amirite?
I vote with “library card”, with a caveat. If you’re RVing or vanning full time it can be hard to get a library card somewhere.
IN 2006, a lowly page designer pitched the SAME THING to Frank Blethen, the publisher of the paper. I got a nice pat on the head. And they STILL haven’t figure out a way to monetize the internet.