Sunday, August 10, 2014

A new business model for news?

To the individual who actually consumes the news, the internet is a blessing. It is possible to read news and opinion - immediately after publication -  from any source in the world, and comprehend the entire context of the happening by following a few hyperlinks. And all this is free. For now.

This level of immersion into current affairs (or even historical affairs for that matter)  is unprecedented in human history. To repeat a platitude, we are indeed in the golden age of information.

However, there is a catch. If you are getting something that you used to pay for, for free - then there are concerns about long term sustainability. How is the reporter going to feed his / her family if one portion of his / her revenue stream is dried up?

And sure enough, the contemporary newspaper business is in doldrums - and their way to cope with this issue is a paywall. If you want to read articles on the economist, you have to buy a subscription. The same with the new york times; the same with scientific american; the same with the wall street journal. 

But paywalls are a deeply problematic solution. Firstly, it becomes uneconomical to subscribe to all publications of interest (remember, one of the big plusses of the internet is to provide the ability to consume a variety of news sources). Secondly, the magic of internet lies in the ability to hyperlink from one story to another - and it would be undesirable, in my opinion to break that magic by paywalling.

So, in this context consider the following scenario.

People spend a lot of time consuming "news" through facebook (an a few lost souls do it through google plus). It's a fair bet to say that most internet users have a social media account of some sort. Currently news on social media is either sensationalized clickbait or in-depth (paywalled) analysis by repulable sources such as the economist and the new york times. And almost all non-paywalled news sites are difficult to consume due to a significant amount of real-estate being dedicated to irritating animated and noisy advertisements.

I believe there is an opportunity for these social media sites to offer a consolidated paywall for news, wherein avid news junkies (like yours truly) pay around $10-$30 a month for an all-you-can-eat buffet of articles from new scientist, scientific american, new york times, the economist, the BBC, times of India, the Hindu. (and so on). Since people know exactly where the clicks and "time-spent reading" are going, it would be a fairly trivial matter to divvy up the thus generated pot among the deserving news-sites.  This would be a spotify for the print media and would make the news media economically competitive again, while generating a robust revenue stream for the service providers (google, facebook and twitter being the current defaults), though this could easily happen through a third party app on either (or all) platforms.

Since we are considering an "all-you-can-eat" buffet of separate news sources aligned only by a sign-in to a third party, the hyperlink-to-paywall problem articulated earlier also has the potential to be solved: if you're signed through facebook (say), you are in the "secure area" inside the paywall - and hyperlinking should work like it did in the good old days (or at least that is the theory).

I could see this extrapolate to (or even include) news served up in video format - and something like this would be key in making finding information on the internet a less frustrating affair.

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