Step in Wrong Direction for News Site Paywall Disarray

The online giants Google, Facebook and Amazon have sucked all the air from advertising in print and online news. That’s old news. With no recourse but to charge readers to read, the new business model for purveyors of news is to keep their stories visible in search engines but not let the reader read those stories without subscribing for a day, week, month or forever.

As news organizations struggle for a way to pay for even minimal levels of journalism, they build paywalls around their original stories and manage to keep away the very readers they are looking to reach.

Now, an app promises to provide news content from three distinguished news outlets for a $12.50 per month. As a step in reconnecting news consumers with the stuff they want to read, it is a step in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, media companies continue to thrash about for a solution.

I’ve long believed that subscriptions to each individual news outlet was the wrong approach. My reading habits are a combination of research for work and stories of interest while avoiding click-bait. From where I sit, it certainly makes more sense to charge interested readers on per-view basis rather than a subscription, particularly for those of us who might visit a news site infrequently.

Why not a micro-payment, similar to the way online gaming coaxes pennies from gamers. It cannot be too difficult for some smart developer to come up with a universal payment system that tagged the reader a fraction of a penny to view a story. Soon, those stories that are more insightful, timely or of greater interest to more people would cost fractionally more and with good reason.

The tricky part is designing a secure payment system that allows the reader “buy” a story in the way they can buy a song without the DRM that clogs up music downloads. By agreeing to a standard copyright statement, written in plain English, the reader would give the media company reasonable protection while dropping a peanut into the cup that otherwise would not come their way. Given the strides made with online payments, a pay-as-you-go news reader app or something simple as a “Click to pay $0.005 for this story” pop-up, ought to be a piece of cake.

The promise of a few bucks has always been the jumper cable of innovation.

A recent online news item that I was able to view, along with a dozen colorful, enticing ads, for free described “the world’s best journalism in one app,” available at the bargain price of $12.50 (pounds 9.99) per month. For that sum, the team behind the app handpicks articles from the Financial Times, Bloomberg and the Economist.

Founder and CEO Rav Singe Sandhu told the UK’s Press Gazette his Mogul News app is “about making news more accessible.” Of course, the target audience for Mogul News are millennials.

The idea of paying someone to “curate” my news seems an unnecessary luxury but completely in step with modern living. A preference for pay-only-for-what-you-read may sound old fashioned but it sure beats paying someone to tell you what to read.