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industry, that could mean content creators and publishers feel forced to cede control to a platform, and Google and Apple are waiting in the wings with potential solutions.
PAYWALLS AND MICROPAYMENTS
Plenty of publishers have tried paywalls, to varying levels of success. But there’s a catch: many of us don’t read a single news source. Because of that, and the hurdles of signing up for accounts at each and every site, the next version of the paywall may well be a platform. Compare it to taxis: rather than calling around to several different private taxi rms, none of which have your details or payment card on le, you simply tap a button in the Uber app. But like taxi drivers, there’s plenty of reasons publishers don’t want to hand their product over to a platform.
Google has been negotiating that tightrope for years, nally seeing some love from publishers thanks to changes to its paywall tool. Google would previously only give a high search ranking to news articles that were free to read, forcing publishers to offer at least a few freebies to ensure that their stories were visible to readers via Google Search and Google News.
At the end of 2017, Google dropped that requirement. But that’s not all: Google is also offering a tool to manage visitors with ad blockers – popping up a message asking you to turn yours off to visit the site for free – and letting readers easily sign up for an account and subscribe using their Google account.
“This is something a lot of publishers seem pretty optimistic about,” explained Brown. “Search – and Google in particular – obviously drives a lot of traf c, so news outlets have been looking to Google for help. Getting rid of the ‘ rst click free’ policy was big for subscription-based outlets.
“Google has huge amounts of data about its users, so the prospect of them sharing data about people who are most likely to be converted into paying subscribers, as has been mooted, is a welcome development,” he added.
It’s easy to see the Google paywall being used for micropayments – buy ten stories for £1 on Google, and it tracks your reading to dole the cash out to publishers – or for managing subscriptions, where it may have plenty of competition from Apple.
“It’s a central cash register, that reduces the friction – and Google is in a great position to do that,” said Lehdonvirta. “[But] publishers would not be too enthusiastic about it, as it further increases Google’s power over the industry.”
Lehdonvirta suggests media giants may be wise to band together to build their own cross-industry payment platform. There’s been some industry support, notably investment from The New York Times for independent startup Blendle, which aims to let readers
ip a micropayment to a publisher for access to a story.
Apple is mooted to be working on a subscription news platform à la Spotify, furthering its work with the Apple News app – and even rumoured to be considering buying a magazine publisher. There have been previous attempts to apply the aggregated subscription model to magazine publishing, with Swedish startup Readly offering access to a digital selection of magazines under a single monthly payment.
Brown notes that the music streaming subscription model doesn’t transfer as easily to news as it did to video. “There’s more variety in the news industry,” he said. If you want to read news, why pay when you can get it free? “So it isn’t like people are going to ock to pay for news via Apple’s new product because it’s the only way to get news.”
Plenty of us have a preferred news source, of course, but Brown notes that aggregated services reduce brand visibility, making the source less distinguishable. That’s
ne for music and television, where you want a wide range of material to listen to and watch. “I’m not sure news translates in the same kind of way,” said Brown. “I’d guess that people have their preferred news brands and that many of those who are happy and willing to pay for news are perfectly happy to pay directly to those outlets.”
PAYING FOR IT
Apple and Google don’t want to prop up news because they love the media. They want to take a cut – and are well placed to do so, because they already have payment card details. But other platforms could succeed, especially as society becomes more wary of the power tech giants hold. Blendle and Readly offer options (see below), but so too do smaller out ts such as micropayment site Patreon. “That’s not huge yet, but niche content producers are using it to build a subscription model for their content,” said Lehdonvirta. .
While a tech-company platform seems the obvious answer for ease of use, Brown says he’s seen more bad ways of managing content payments than good ones – and that includes efforts from the major players. “Facebook’s attempt at testing subscription support in Instant Articles was painfully clunky,” he said. “It was no surprise to me that the outlets I saw taking part in those tests are no longer doing so. Whether that was their decision or Facebook’s, I’m not sure – but if it was theirs I would certainly understand why.”
In the end, the future of news payments may require publishers to ignore the rst wave of internet users and focus on the second. Mock millennials all you want, but they’re more likely to pay for their news than the generation that preceded them, says Brown. “There seems to be some evidence that, for some US publishers… growth in paid subscriptions is especially encouraging among young people,” he said. “Some people put that down to those young people having become conditioned to paying for quality content via services like Spotify and Net ix.”
For the news industry to nish its evolution to paid-for product, publishers may need to learn to give up a bit of control and we may need to be retrained to cough up the cash.
News sites, such as The New York Times, have installed paywalls to recoup some of the revenue lost to ad blockers