How Murdoch's pay-for-news dreams could work

I posted a comment today on Brand Republic's article about the Rupert Murdoch proposal to charge for news articles, in which I suggested a business model that might make it viable, but I was really thinking aloud, so I'm gonna re-write it and refine it a little here...

Like most people, I've been pretty sure that charging for online news is a non-runner. The pay-for-news concept is fundamentally undermined by the availability of alternative sources and the distributive/sharing nature of the internet.

Now though, I'm beginning to wonder.

It occurs to me that everyone has been assuming that specific titles (eg. The Sunday Times, The Washington Post) would charge directly for access to news articles. Or maybe a whole group (Associated Newspapers, News International) would charge, under one scheme.

But what if content wasn't sold directly? What if online content was sold through a new wave of news/content wholesalers, selling packages to consumers in the way that Sky or Virginmedia sell tv channels?

You might, for example, have a news wholesaler called (my invention) who sells monthly access to everything that The Times, The Sunday Times, The Times of India, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde (Eng lang version) The Spectator, South China Morning Post, and more, has to offer.

For £9.99 monthly, (again, my example!) gives you a login to a package of 30 titles including The Sun, News of the World, Hello Magazine, Heat magazine, Take a Break, FHM, etc etc.

What if or, say, had a 'Travel package'? £5.00 monthly gives you access to Conde Naste Traveller, Wanderlust, and the travel pages (only) of The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, NY Times, etc.

And then, there might be resellers who repackage content from, say, The Lady, Harper's, House & Garden, Cosmopoliton, Femail, etc for a women's subscription package in Cantonese (they do the translation).

And what if the wholesalers weren't just dedicated aggregators? They might be other distributors. I've already mentioned, but Murdoch could start with his son's company, Sky. He could offer packages of content access as bolt-on services with his broadband product. BT Broadband might bundle in a FREE comprehensive package of content titles with their premium product as a marketing promotion. (But we are straying here, into the fringes of a very murky wood called "net neutrality"!)

So, from a publishers perspective, a circulation manager on The Sunday Times or The Sun for example, is doing the best deals he/she can with wholesalers for all or parts of their titles, in order to maximise revenue. If he/she spots a wholesaler with a particular lifestyle package, he might sell him Motoring, or Style content.

From a consumer point-of-view...

Well I don't want any of this, but if it happened I'd be shopping around for the cheapest packages that give me the best access to my areas of general & specific interest.

Most importantly, it will work or fail for me on the ease of use, and that's going to come down to the technology. It has to be based on some kind of encrypted ID, so that, for example, when I follow the short url on an interesting tweet to, as it turns out, a Guardian article, it has to recognise me as a legitimate, non-lapsed, subscriber through this wholesaler or that one and let me straight in, instantly!

Absolutely NO logging-in each time.

Absolutely NO viewing only through a wholesaler's gateway.

It has to work like it does now... but with me being occasionally frustrated when I follow a link to news content that I don't have an active subscription for.

Let's be clear. I want none of this.

But I can begin to see, even with the omnipresent news competition from the BBC and free re-distribution by users, that a pay-for-news/content model along these lines could work.

What do you think?


onliner said…
Postscript: Aah, I've just found an organisation, Journalism Online, that looks as if it is planning just what I described above.
Debbie Hindle said…
Prescient. You're right your musing is streets ahead of my response to Media Guardian article in early 2010

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