I started a thread on Twitter yesterday, one more time practically begging news orgs to support what I call an EZ-Pass for News. Not much response, but a handful of people did give the usual response, the one The Atlantic and other pubs want to hear — that they bought a subscription to show support for journalism. I don’t think this helps journalism, it just gives them false hope that there is a future for viewing journalism as a cause rather than as a product.
If journalism is to thrive, the paywalls have to go away. It’s the wrong user experience. It forces a question at a time when it’s virtually impossible that the user is going to buy your pitch. Much better to get the money incrementally, then when someone is spending too much per month, upsell them a subscription as a way of saving money.
The TV world is about to discover this. All of a sudden there are a dozen different Netflix-alikes. There isn’t room for that many, yet more are coming. They’re going to have to find a way of doing an EZ-Pass.
I don’t want to repeat all I’ve written here before. It’s really very simple. If I use a freeway here in the eastern US, I don’t have to stop to pay a toll. I just drive through what used to be a toll plaza, and an electronic device reads the chip behind my rear-view mirror, and deducts the money from my account, which it replenishes from credit card as-needed. Not that there was ever a whole lot of pain associated with this, but it’s nice that the transaction is smoother now.
News needs that much more than freeways do. The world has changed, it isn’t the 80s, the last time it made sense to buy news via subscription, and even then you could buy a single issue without entering into a long-term relationship with the pub. It’s all been unbundled, and like it or not news orgs are competing on a somewhat level playing field. The Atlantic is doing well, I observed, at making me want to read their articles. But not enough to get me to subscribe. As I’ve said before, I don’t even like subscribing to the pubs I subscribe to now, and I consider them essential, but I consider the deal they offer a ripoff, that some of that money should go to almost-equally deserving pubs. The Atlantic is good enough to serve as an example for why the paywall doesn’t work for readers. And they were visionary enough and entrepreneurial enough to join up with Scroll. So in some part they buy into the paywall-less version of news.