Why we need a news flatrate

With newspapers slowly accepting that the internet is their future it has also become apparent that the current monetization scheme is not so easily transported into the virtual world. That we are willing to pay for a physical newspaper has many reasons:

- All the informations we need are neatly bundled together
- We only have to decide between a few papers that come into question for us
- We can switch on a daily basis if we like
- We now the brands on display well
- For subscribers it gets distributed home

Now the whole distribution thing completely broke off with the internet. You don’t even have to get out of bed for your first dose of news. Also people get their news more and more from different sources. You cannot read a webpage from top to bottom like people used to do with daily newspapers. Everything is just a click away and social media reminds us of that fact about every five minutes. If we click on a link from a friend its often just the content that matters, not the brand that created it.

Almost all the reasons we were willing to pay for an issue of a newspaper are gone or have transformed. Yet newspapers are still thinking about paywalls that often are more restrictive than the previous system were many people bought their issue at a kiosk or shop if they felt like it. To make matters a lot worse, physical papers were very present even if you didn’t used to buy them. You could see the headlines walking by a kiosk or pick up an issue in a waiting room.

To correct for that fact publishing houses came up with the idea of soft paywalls were one can read a little bit before paying. But in the current age of news were everything gets repeated over and over again and I can get my dose from many different sources with ease, its beyond me how this should ever be able to attract enough subscribers.

There is another solution. If you look at all the media statistics of how people spend their time its impressive that TV seems unscarred so far. And if you think about this a little further it becomes more and more clear that newspapers in the internet are facing the exact same problem that TV channels had. Altough in a bit more challenging form to say it bluntly. TV wouldn’t have a fraction of its importance without the small but important detail that you generally don’t pay for individual channels. (Over at stratechery is an excellent article explaining why this makes such a difference)

TV itself is a thing. News isn’t. For us of course it is. We don’t care about the publishers or the channels. We want to switch to wherever the most interesting thing is on at the moment. Without the physical distribution, news consumption in the internet follows the very same rules of TV consumption.

So the other solution is to follow the inspiration and great success of TV and separate content from payment. Do not charge for a brand. charge for news and let readers decide where to get it. And yes this means to share your payment model with as many other publishers as possible. Most importantly those that are competing you the hardest, because thats were your reader is going if you don’t have that one story she is looking for. And thats how it should be. I bet people will pay for news if they get the news they want. And they will only know after they read it and they may change their minds multiple times per day. If your payment system is linked to your content you can’t keep up with that and eventually you will lose against the internet.

I will not pay for news from one source. Dare to believe in your content and let me decide if today I want to read your story or your competitors. Then I will pay for access to news. And just like in TV you can share the profits behind the scenes based on whatever metric you seem fit. Just like in TV this model works great for niche content producers. The more diverse content a payment system has, the better the package for the consumer.

The way the internet works it doesn’t cost much to add others to your paywall. If someone has better content, your readers go there. If they are behind the same paywall, its so much better for both of you. Todays publishers are big enough to do this. But i fear they don’t realize that the biggest threat to them is the new environment of the internet and not the other publishers.