According to Julie

How to get me to pay for news


puppy and papers

I’ll buy news from a cute news vendor – Photo by Marco Monetti

Giving away news for free online has been called “the dumbest choice ever made by the media”. While that might be an exaggeration, I agree that giving away a product to the same people who were willing to pay for it, is a strange choice – and one that media execs have been attempting to remake over the past couple of years. But what about people who have never paid for news?

Back in 2006, Schibsted, a Norwegian media group with operations in 27 countries, was praised by The Economist as a great exception to the current media rule: despite giving away online news, they were making money during the transition to online. Today, all the Norwegian subscription-based Schibsted papers either make their readers pay for online news or they are about to start doing so.

I’ve been worried about this. Information should be free – not in the sense that it should cost me nothing, but in the sense that I should be able to access a variety of news sources, so that my view of the world is not coming from one source alone. If I have to pay per news source, I have an incentive to limit my news consumption, to let just one small group of people filter my world for me.

The great strength of online news is the possibility of aggregating across sources. I am willing to pay for that. I pay for NewsBlur, although it is far from my ideal RSS service. I would gladly have paid for Google Reader.

Today a representative of Schibsted came to Burson-Marsteller to discuss their ongoing digital strategies. I can’t go into detail on Schibsted’s future plans – but I can provide detail on what I want them to do.

So, Schibsted, here is the online news subscription I want to buy (as in with my money) from you:

All-I-can-“eat” news from all your Norwegian national and regional news sources. Complete round-the-clock access to a variety of news outlets, including their archives. Let me log in once and go beyond every paywall you control, at least when it comes to national or regional news.

Independent news sources. Integrate your advertizing and IT departments, but keep your editors and journalists independent. Access to different points of view – that’s the product I’m paying for.

No app necessary. Apps cost you money. I’d rather you spent the money I give you on journalism and making sure your websites work on every computer, smart phone and tablet I want to use them on. I already have an app for online news reading: a browser.

A news portal with a variety of ways to view the news. Including:

  • Real-time everything you’ve got in reverse chronological order, a la RSS (or at least make sure my subscription includes this RSS feed)
  • Sections by topic across media sources (tech from all sources, fashion from all sources etc.)
  • A curated front page with stuff you/I/an algorithm think I might like
  • Each individual news outlet’s own front page

(The viewing experience can work like Pinterest, where I can see “everything” or “everything within the category Women’s Fashion” or “Only stuff from the boards I specifically follow” + suggestions for boards I might like to follow)

Options. Let me choose what device I view my news from, and which of the views described above I see first.

Metered access to individual articles for outsiders. Let me share some of your journalism with my friends. Let me tweet and blog about your articles without sending my followers to a dead end. Don’t ruin the internet for me.

Let me opt out of print. I get that I might have to pay for it as part of the total package, but just don’t bring it to my front door if I don’t want it. I’m happy with my screens.

A decent price. I’m not going to pay the equivalent of X separate paper subscriptions for this. Get over yourselves. I’ve been consuming free (to me) news my entire life. First my parents paid for paper subscriptions. Then other paper subscribers paid for my free online news. Does that make me spoiled? Maybe, but who’s fault is that? You’ve spoiled me, but you’ve also made me more informed and given me a broader world view. Don’t take that away by putting an impossibly high price on it.

Throwing out paper

Not this. Photo by Sharla Sava

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7 thoughts on “How to get me to pay for news

  1. I have a friend who works at Schibsted. Wonder if she’d like to know this? 🙂

  2. If you share stories, it is not a dead end. Your followers can then decide for themselves if they want to buy or subscribe or not. Interesting points of view, but giving it away for free was possibly the worst business decision ever. Quality journalism costs money. If the quality is high enough from content to presentation, readers will follow. But for Stavanger Aftenblad, the important thing is to be the main choice in Rogaland, not really to generate readers from all over. That position is worth a lot more per reader. So from their point of view,why should they bundle news as one, cutting an already ludicrously low price for content by 75 per cent (four papers)?

    • Just to be clear: Buying a subscription to Stavanger Aftenblad by itself should cost less than the super package deal I am describing, and being the top in Rogaland could still be their main goal. But please give me some incentive to diversify my news consumption by providing a decent discount when I want more subscriptions. Depending on content in the regional papers, maybe the package deal doesn’t have to include everything. Maybe I won’t get specifically local stories. But local feature stories could have a much broader geographic interest. Truthfully, I think the most important thing for me would be to get opinion articles and good feature stories from around the country.

      As for the dead end thing: maybe not a dead end, but a locked door with a guard standing next to it, demanding money. I think you should give people say 3 articles a month for free – whatever 3 articles they happen to either click on from the front page or get direct links to. I share links to Norwegian papers with people who live outside of Norway – they may not want a subscription, for good reason.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Are you @oleppedersen ?

      • Yes, the one and only 🙂 A free number of articles is a good principle; my newspaper is digital subscription-based only, and we would of course get more social sharing of stories if people did get to read some articles a week or month. Most should do this (we give away the first paragraphs for free on every story).

        The problem for newspapers is that we have given something that is not free to make, away for free for years. In the old newspaper business, free papers are considered less worthy (by very good reasons), and with one or two exceptions (VG and NRK) it probably will be like that online in a few years as well.

        I understand the wish for a huge discount, but that will be the road to one editorial staff for all four titles, with a few local pages thrown in for good measure.

  3. I will admit that if news weren’t gratis, I wouldn’t be reading it. I’m not particularly interested in news, and I only really read news when I’m bored and just want to have something to do. Were there a pay-wall there, I’d just find something else to do to entertain me instead. While I admit that it bugs me whenever I finally am reading the news, and it says “you must be a paid subscriber to read this particular news article,” (which is something at least Dagbladet and VG does these days) the article’s appeal is never strong enough to make me consider paying.

    Am I spoiled? Probably, but as you can tell, the news isn’t worth all that much to me in the first place, which is why I’m not willing to pay for it.

    Most importantly, though, barring all news providers establishing a cartel, I feel like whenever a news outlet starts charging for news, a new one will pop up to take its place as a free news outlet. So unless you’re really wed to that particular news organization’s way of providing you with the news, you’ll most likely be able to find sufficient news coverage elsewhere that IS free.

    • News outlets generally still give the this-just-happened-and-everyone-thinks-it’s-relevant news away for free, and put their analysis, commentary, features, local stuff and sometimes any scoops they’ve uncovered themselves behind a paywall. I think you’ll always be able to read news for free in general, but the full newspaper product will no longer be free online. But it’s the feature/commentary writing that distinguishes the different news outlets from each other, and that’s where people can fall into the trap of only buying one news source. You only need one photo on the front page of a newspaper you happen to walk past on the street to tell you who just became President. But to find out how he won and what his policies mean to you, you should probably read several sources.

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