April 28, 2011

A Brick Wall

Newspapers, magazines, periodicals and most other publications have all felt the impact the web has had on their age old subscription model.

Information, news, facts, gossip, research and studies are readily available for free across the vast information superhighway.

Anyone can find anything at anytime for little to no cost.

But one must ask themselves... who creates all this content we consume on a daily basis?

Quality content is the one thing that cannot be manufactured without the need for highly specialized and creative professionals. The web has made us ravenously hungry for this content and at the same time we so freely consume it we simultaneously have taken for granted the amount of work that goes into its creation.

One of the major challenges for content and online utility creators has been to try and reverse the notion that content and utility is free and to get users to pay a premium for access in a similar way they pay for cable TV. Through subscriptions.

The problem with subscriptions is that it is fundamentally adverse to the way the internet is used. The birth of the web promised everyone free access to all kinds of content. Everything was free but that was only to make the case for the potential and the existence of the web.

We live in very different times now. The web is not only stable but it has become the backbone of our society.

In the past if you wanted to read a specific article in the New York Times you purchased the entire paper even though it was just the one article that may have interested you.

Sharing the article would require you actually physically handing the paper to the person you wanted to share it with.

I know this sounds like a painstaking task...

My grandmother has this great habit of clipping out articles and sending them to me in the mail, with an actual stamp on an envelope.

We see a similar pattern with cable television, if you wanted to watch a particular show on HBO you had to subscribe to the entire channel and even that was bundled into a package of other channels you may never even flip to. Then you would have to record that show on a VHS tape and somehow get that tape to whoever you wanted to share it with.

The horror!

Luckily the internet came around and the mighty web has fragmented everything.

We now gather our news, entertainment, research and other sources from a variety of different places on the web.

We may want a certain column from Wednesday's WSJ or only the Monday recap of Sunday's big games, we may only be interested in the Approval Matrix in New York magazine or simply want to watch a particular segment on a television show we may never watch in its entirety.

Paywalls have been one of the ways that publications have been trying to get people to pay for premium content. But the paywall structure goes against how we use the web.

I understand that Time Magazine wants people to subscribe to its publication, however I am not so sure everyone wants every piece of content in the magazine.

Apple was extremely successful in the way it allowed people to buy a whole album or just a single song. That model completely revamped the music industry and actually helped to almost completely eliminate the illegal pirating of music.

I believe that every piece of content on the web should be available a la carte.

Every article, news snippet, utility, video, image or anything that a content creator should receive compensation for.

If there is an article in the Times I want to read then I should be able to pay an access fee to read just that article or agree to view an ad that will justify the cost of my consumption.

Fragmentation is the key to monetization.

Subscriptions are just too much of a commitment for people who hoard and gather information from a zillion different places.

Everything can be made available in a fragmented format or in a limited access format so we can pay for what we actually want.

I may need to read a chapter of a book that I certainly don't need to own. I may need a certain tool offered in Photoshop for a single use but I certainly don't need to own a full blown copy of the application.

I strongly feel that by fragmenting premium content and utilities their creators will find that getting users to pay for usage will become a much easier sell.

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