People will pay for online content if you make it easy enough
26 April 2009
Posnanski's future of newspapers blog has a post up by Seth Mnookin about what the newspaper companies (or anyone else, really) can do to convince people to pay for content. His basic point is that it's not that people don't want to pay for content; instead, they just don't want to enough to jump through all the extra hoops required to pay. It's so much easier to get the content for free that that's the way people do it.
He points to Apple's iTune Store and iPhone App Store, and to Amazon's Kindle as evidence that people are more than willing to pay for content if you make it easy, simple, and remove the extra step of paying every single time.
the news industry's "original sin" wasn't so much giving away content for free, it was making it so damn hard to pay for content. I contrasted that with two popular topics here: the Kindle and the iPhone. Amazon and Apple have both perfected the type of instant-gratification, on-the-spot payment plans that basically erase the lag time between wanting something and owning it--buying a book or an app are, in today's parlance, incredibly low-friction transactions.
His solution is that the newspaper companies should form some sort of coalition, a gateway through which people can easily purchase content from any of the participating newspapers/magazines/publications and get it immediately, without having to enter their credit card information for each purchase.
I think the idea makes a lot of sense, and could certainly work. But what both Apple and Amazon also have going for them is a piece of proprietary hardware that makes the whole operation extremely smooth and seamless. The publishers definitely need to make this work online on any computer, and they should have an iPhone app and find a way to get onto the Kindle.
But I'd say they should also build a piece of hardware that they can sell at a small profit which is designed specifically for this service, and simply works better, faster, and more seamlessly than the web/iPhone/Kindle versions.* That could really work.
* Of course, they absolutely must not cripple the web/iPhone/Kindle versions in order to do this. You don't want to artificially make the majority of your customers second class citizens if you can help it. The goal here would be to make the specialized reader hardware so good that people are willing to pay $200 to get it rather than paying $5 for the iPhone app or $0 for the web version.
I don't think the newspaper companies will actually pull this off. And if they do, I don't expect they'd get it right. But they definitely need to give it a shot.