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Google Unveils Tools to Increase Subscriptions for Publishers (nytimes.com)
108 points by miiiiiike on Oct 2, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 136 comments

Subscriptions are just the wrong model for news publishers. There's NO way I could possibly afford to subscribe to every news output I occasionally read news from, unless the subscriptions were so close to free as to be useless as a revenue source for the publisher. It's just not going to happen.

What we desperately need is a real, useful micro-payments model where you can pay per-article. I'd be happy to pay you a few cents, or a dollar, or whatever, for each of the 3 or 4 articles I read on your site per month. But I'm not buying a subscription just to read 3 or 4 articles. The economics just don't work.

> What we desperately need is a real, useful micro-payments model where you can pay per-article

The other side of the coin is that if you're a news organisation, "the economics just don't work" with micro payments. You can't fund a month long investigative report based on micropayments, even if it produces a prize-winning piece, if you don't have guaranteed income to support it. What happens if you spend the month investigating and don't find anything?

Micro-payment per-article will only encourage "safe" journalism - articles that you know will resonate with your readers, rather than controversial pieces or in-depth, resource intensive research.

> Micro-payment per-article will only encourage "safe" journalism - articles that you know will resonate with your readers, rather than controversial pieces or in-depth, resource intensive research.

I actually disagree, from what has happened when trying ads ads (basically micropayments in terms of $ amount per view), we get click bait and sensationalist headlines for any news source which focuses on income-per-article-metrics.

Click bait for people that agree with it.

"See what liberals/Trump did now!"

Clickbait for everyone. If you agree, you want to read it to confirm your beliefs. If you disagree, you want to read it to call bullshit and/or flame a bit in the comments sections. Publishers don't care, they get ad dollars either way. That's why so much of those clickbait articles are purposefully made outrage-inducing.

>You can't fund a month long investigative report based on micropayments,

But that type of expensive journalism also wasn't funded by subscriptions in the past. Woodword & Bernstein's long reporting on Watergate was funded by classified ads and advertising dollars from local businesses like car dealerships.

NYTimes was recently break-even and then somewhat profitable with digital subscriptions -- but they also had to reduce the headcount over the last 10 years to reduce costs. So far, no newspaper has successfully replaced all the previous ad dollars with digital subscription payments.

That ship sailed a long time ago. The current status quo IS micro-payment per article, only it comes from advertisers instead of readers.

Yes, but unlike clickbait advertising, microtransactions actually encourage a positive publisher-reader relationship. If you trust a news source to do good journalism and if you don't have to jump through hoops to pay for an article, my bet is that most people would happily throw down ¢10 or something for a good short read (or more for a better read). Conversely, I would be even more reluctant to read click bait if I was asked to pay to view it. So I think that micropayments is similar from a maximizing clicks perspective, but the incentive is actually to build a great relationship with readers.

My bet is you are overly optimistic and instead will have click bait for people with disposable income seeking articles that they can use to prove their point.

To prove their point, other people must be able to read this article. Which means somebody has to pay for it. Maybe they should make sponsored links - if you have disposable income, finance 1000 people reading this article, in hope they get convinced by it. That'd be putting your money where your mouth is!

Thats actually why subscriptions as a more significant revenue source are important: because of what the pay-per-view model does (whether it's advertisers or individuals please paying.)

Instead of micropayments, why not have a Netflix-like aggregator experience with an overall subscription?

Also, has anyone considered that collaboration may be better than competition when it comes to news, and many other things? Look at open source and wikipedia beating the pants off closed source and britannica, encarta etc over the years.

Why not fund wikinews and such sites instead? Much less clickbait and spam and fake news. Different incentives.

Wikipedia however is explicitly a secondary source, by design. For news, it becomes contradictory - because news naturally tends to be primary source things, why would you want secondary source news if you can have primary source ones?

Of course, nothing prevents wikinews from being primary source - but that requires much larger expenses of people actually doing original research and reporting (things explicitly shunned on the rest of Wikipedia) instead of refining, curating and summarizing existing source (which is a very useful thing too, but for news it's not enough).


Thank you, I know what wikinews is. I also know it can't exist without primary sources (and btw can't probably exist if all those become subscription-only).

Well, that's where the monetary contributions would come in.

There would be a subscription service like Netflix. And people would contribute all kinds of things to it, including citizen journalism with their own cellphone videos etc. But it would be collaborative, not competitive. Only one story per news item.

Universal Basic Income will help with this, as basic living expenses will be covered, assuming we supply enough UBI that people can afford this, which I would suggest is part of necessity for a healthy society.

But this is just another way of saying the gov't pays.

What is money? What are taxes? It's all relating to a promise of a certain amount of work will be done. Do we generally do free things for our family, for our elderly parents, etc? Yes, we do. It's the idea of imagine if what everyone did was to work in service of others, where no money was exchanged - but if literally everyone is helping you - you will be 100% taken care of. With automation we can replace - or rather we can free many people's time that would otherwise be needed. The construct and culture we've been born into, "educated" to believe, is flawed in getting us stuck in a non-abundance mindset - into a mindset of scarcity. In some parts of the world, sure perhaps that is the case currently, however we have the resources and knowledge to efficiently manage everything so everyone is taken care of. And Elon's helping give us more room and be able to mine more resources from space as well. The universe is big, there's abundance - we just have to allocate resources properly - which includes not being destructive with war and violence.

> What happens if you spend the month investigating and don't find anything?

Same as what already happens; you don't write the story.

> Micro-payment per-article will only encourage "safe" journalism - articles that you know will resonate with your readers, rather than controversial pieces or in-depth, resource intensive research.

Maybe for some people, but for me it would have the opposite effect. If forced to pay for boring/unoriginal content, I would probably just not read it at all. I already do this for content that is behind subscription paywalls or that has hideous ads everywhere. If anything, being forced to pay for content I read would make me even more reluctant to read useless filler.

I am sure I am not alone. Hacker News in particular is seemingly filled with people who would rather throw down ¢10 or something many times a day than pay for 10 separate monthly subscriptions that don't reflect the actual proportion of reading you do on each journalism platform.

Given how much potential revenue is already lost by forcing people to pay for the full subscription, I don't believe that micropayments are an obviously inferior solution. They might prove to be flawed in some way, but I don't think that the points you make are good arguments against them.

> What we desperately need is a real, useful micro-payments model where you can pay per-article.

Former news editor here. I have spent a loooong time thinking about how to help my beloved news industry find a payment model that works. I've become convinced that a "cable subscription" model has more promise than a micropayments model.

Here's what's wrong with a micropayments model. Each microtransaction is an additional cost incurred by the user, and in many models that cost can vary based on the website visited and other factors. And so every single time you choose to engage in a microtransaction, you have to do some brief mental gymnastics to determine whether the transaction is valuable enough to you to proceed. It may be only a few cents, so for many people it's not a big deliberation, but the decision is always there, every time.

The benefit of this approach is that there's very little economic waste involved; you pay only for what you buy. But it encourages stingy, penny-pinching behavior, and that's horrible for adoption. If you want broad, mass-market support, it's a big problem.

Under the cable subscription model, you pay a fixed monthly fee for access to a large number of "channels," and in return you can access those channels as much as you want. Under the hood, that subscription fee can be doled out to each channel based on how much it's accessed, or divided equally, or by some other method in between. But to the end user, it's an all-you-can-eat buffet, and they just don't need to think about it. Part of the fee they're paying is for content itself and part of it is for the convenience of not having to regulate usage.

The downside of this approach is that there's more economic waste involved; some light users won't get their money's worth and will end up subsidizing heavy users. But it discourages stingy behavior, and that's great for adoption.

Later on down the line, once the cable-subscription model has been widely adopted, the market will eventually demand more a la carte payment models (we see this happening right now in the fairly mature cable television industry).

But for right now, widespread adoption should be the primary focus of any online payment model. Ultimately, a good number of the major U.S. news publishers would need to get on board, and to date they have been relatively unwilling to cooperate (which may be due to regulatory hurdles). But I'm pretty sure that's what needs to happen. Less sure whether it will be enough to save the industry.

That's the model used by Flattr [1]. They started years ago. Not sure why adoption is taking so long.

> Flattr is a browser add-on that intelligently measures your interaction with content on the websites you visit, and then automatically distributes the right amount of funds to those sites you engage with the most.

[1] https://flattr.com/

I have some tabs in my browser open that remain there for months (poor tab hygiene), how does it account for that?

How on earth could flattr remain neutral? Who's to say they wouldn't give more weight to the New York Times if the NYT gave them a commission?

Well if they were not neutral, they would basically lose their business in the long run.

It's like we trust Google not to sell our data to third parties directly (only indirectly).

I agree with your analysis. The current (and biggest IMHO) problem with journalism in the US is that it's coupled with advertising and so inevitably has an element of corporate propaganda.

The main way to combat that is to have the industry as a whole receive funding from a central source so that advertisers can't dictate what is acceptable to each reporting agency. This is why networks like PBS (which is largely publicly funded) and FSTV/LinkTV (which are funded by donations) have more investigative journalism and documentaries than networks like CNN or Fox News.

I'd also like to see something like the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine brought back for all media. So to receive funding from the central pool, some percentage of articles would have to be in the public good. That's a subjective thing to try to quantify, but, it could start with metrics like what percentage of articles have been verified as accurate or retracted - resulting in some kind of journalistic standard rating.

I'm not a journalist, but I've been thinking about the problem of micropayments for things like open source software for a long time as well. There may be a solution that would work well for both specialties, as they seem to be getting left behind by purely free market forces.

If you're worried about propaganda and bias, getting the majority of funding from a central source sounds like a really bad way to go. Look at all the state-funded media in other countries. Guess how critical of the government they are?

While it's true that advertisers may exert some pressure on publishers (and corporate consolidation has made this worse), it's far better to have hundreds of advertisers, any single one of whom you can freely tick off, than to have a single large benefactor whom you can't. Even if the benefactor is largely benevolent and hands-off, it's not something you should bank on.

You're right. Newshour is notorious for heavily biased poorly researched 'news'. What little i've seen of the BBC is pretty shameful as well. We're fortunate in the western world to have a free press that delivers such deep, thoughtful, even handed and well researched news. Can you imagine how horrible the situation in puerto rico would be today without that coverage? I'd say the U.S.'s deft handling of Iraq and Afghanistan are direct consequences of the quality of our news.

State financing and governmental curation of content is the worst thing you can think of if you want freedom of the press. It doesn't matter if it's called "fairness", or "public good", or "truth", or anything else - by the end of it, it would be just a means by which people currently in power can shape the content of the news. It is never a good idea to give governmental enforcers control over the content of the press, and it never ends well.

> There may be a solution that would work well for both specialties, as they seem to be getting left behind by purely free market forces.

Open source is doing spectacularly well on free market, what are you talking about? Linux is kicking ass, most of content served on the web is served by open source, most of the browsers used to read that content are fully or partially open-source, number of active open source projects is in the thousands and number of participants is probably in millions.

Journalism is not doing as well, but I wonder if it has to do not only with the payment model but with the quality of their product, which, sadly, has lately drastically declined.

Very few people are able to make a living today maintaining open source projects.

As for public vs private planning - that's an argument as old as time. One thing to consider is that since the free market doesn't consider externalities, that's one reason why problems with the environment, inequality, declining health and human services, etc etc etc aren't being adequately addressed by the mainstream media.

I view free speech, the airwaves and even the internet itself as public property. So it makes sense that having a greater share of public funding/ownership in those areas would be better than living under the corporate oligopolies that control it now.

> Very few people are able to make a living today maintaining open source projects.

I think you underestimating the number, but even if true, if open source is still so strong despite of that - where is the problem?

> I view free speech, the airwaves and even the internet itself as public property.

Free speech is not a property, it is a human right. Internet is mostly distributed private property, and works just fine with that. As for airwaves, it's a mess, let's not go there, it's irrelevant for our discussion.

> So it makes sense that having a greater share of public funding/ownership in those areas

No it does not. How forcefully extracting money from people mostly unwilling to pay them and allocating them by opaque decisions of people who have little expertise in what is needed and mostly are bothered by looking good on TV is better than voluntary funding by consumers who know what they need? I mean, I can get if you say some things can not be financed otherwise, for reasons. Maybe for some things there's just no way to work out suitable non-governmental model that would work. But here we have a model that already, provably, works. And we have governmental model which is notorious for its poor efficiency, corruption, wastefullness and constant scandalous mismanagement. How it makes sense to replace a working model with it?

> State financing and governmental curation of content is the worst thing you can think of if you want freedom of the press.

You can have public funding with independent editorial control and content curation. This is how most publicly funded news outlets work in liberal democracies, such as the BBC.

What's "independent"? If someone doesn't work for government, it doesn't mean he is "independent" - everybody has their opinions and biases and peer networks and so on. If somebody does work for the government, they are certainly not "independent" in any sensible meaning of the word.

How would you ensure that "independent editorial control" would not oppress unpopular opinions? Institute yet another independent curator of curators? And then the third one and fourth one? Why not just leave the people alone and instead of having a dozen curatorial organizations just let them themselves choose what they want to read and listen to? You think they are not able of figuring it by themselves?

> This is how most publicly funded news outlets work in liberal democracies, such as the BBC.

Most of those outlets are very biased and open only to particular set of opinions. Including, of course, BBC. While they manage to occasionally produce high-quality content, they certainly nowhere near providing an adequate representation of the spectrum of opinion existing in the society. Fortunately, in most liberal democracies state-run media does not enjoy the monopoly on information, thus this bias is easily corrected by a gamut of other media outlets. However, since private media is capable of representing the whole gamut of opinions anyway, and to produce high-quality content too, and there is no discernable advantage in public media in that regard, what's the point of having it at all?

Former news editor here. I have spent a loooong time thinking about how to help my beloved news industry find a payment model that works. I've become convinced that a "cable subscription" model has more promise than a micropayments model.

That's a good point, and I started to mention that earlier myself. But not having any experience in the news industry, my first thought was that publishers might not want that kind of model. My thinking was that some publishers might look at it as effectively "revenue sharing" (and I guess it would actually be so in many ways) and having some outlets subsidize others.

Under the cable subscription model, you pay a fixed monthly fee for access to a large number of "channels," and in return you can access those channels as much as you want. Under the hood, that subscription fee can be doled out to each channel based on how much it's accessed, or divided equally, or by some other method in between. But to the end user, it's an all-you-can-eat buffet, and they just don't need to think about it. Part of the fee they're paying is for content itself and part of it is for the convenience of not having to regulate usage.

I could see this working as long as there aren't too many such services, or we're back to just a variation on the first problem. Much like I subscribe to multiple streaming providers (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.) I could see paying for maybe 3 or 4 such services, if the content quality justifies it.

Something that might work is something like what Prime does... you pay your base Prime fee, you get a bunch of free stuff, and then you can add on "add-ons" that are, relatively speaking, fairly inexpensive. Amazon has suckered me into about 7 or 8 "add ons" to my Prime account, including HBO, Showtime, Shudder, and several more. Since each is fairly cheap in isolation, it's been easy to click the "add this" button. Now if I sat down and did the math to see how much I'm actually paying Amazon a month, I might start looking to cut some, but up to this point, I haven't...

I think you make some good points, but couldn't someone just buy 20 or 50 article credits from you in a single transaction and then choose which articles they want to use their credits on (no time limit and no counting credits toward articles they don't specifically say they want to use a credit for).

That's the way most micropayment systems currently work. No, it doesn't solve the problem, because really all you're doing is exchanging dollars for credits. You still have to decide, every time, whether you want to spend a certain number of credits to view a certain piece of content.

Users who purchased the credits go from unknown prospects to customers. All transaction fees are consolidated for better efficiency. From that point on, you are servicing a known paying customer rather than spending effort selling your wares. Each transaction that starts from a known person rather than an unknown user means the friction of that transaction can be much lower.

The user can simply click "read this article (1 credit)" while logged in. Then the article becomes accessible to them forever. They can read it as long as they are logged in.

As time goes on, you can increase the cost of credits to meet your needs, but outstanding credits are always honored, and purchased articles are always accessible in the user's "library".

How about time based micro payments? If I only read the first paragraph or two, I only pay a few cents. If I continue reading, I pay more. Articles, then, would have to be written to pull the reader into the piece and keep her there.

Just a thought I've had. Not sure how well it would work in practice.

How common, if at all, were you contacted by patrons willing to fund your newspaper or news organization?

Do any news organizations operate off of endowments, or trusts, like colleges? (I guess that leads to another question, are there national news organizations that are non-profits as well?)

I fear that payments based on total number of access or usage would still encourage pandering to the base instincts as with advertising supported model.

Payments need to be based on quality of work. The system should ensure that Alex Jones doesn't make much and ProPublica does well.

Bear in mind that under the hood, how revenues are distributed in a "cable subscription" model can be as simple or as complex as you want.

For instance, let's say you get 10 major publishers on board, and each of them has 25 regional properties. So that's subscriptions to 250 news sites total.

Maybe a third of the total revenue gets split evenly among those 10 publishers, and another third gets split based on page views / engagement. Then one-sixth gets distributed based on Pulitzers or other quality-type metrics, and one-six gets distributed based on number of new subscribers brought in by the publisher.

Then the publisher can decide how it wants to allocate that revenue. It might employ a similar system to decide how to distribute it to each of its properties. Then the editor can employ a similar system to decide how to allocate the budget to clickbait vs. substantive reporting.

Why not both?

Micropayments for most major US news outlets already exists - check out Blendle.com. It's in closed beta right now, but works great, and invites are easy to come by.

It does require you to read articles on its own website and not the original publisher's, but it's a nice clean layout. You own (a license for) articles once you pay for them. There's also fast, automated refunds if you don't like an article.

I've been using them for a couple months and like the service. They send a daily email with a summary of the news and links and I have found they do a good job of curating news.

Only gripe would be the price per article, which I assume they negotiate with each publisher, since it varies widely. As more people us e it I would hope this comes down a bit.

Thanks for that, not heard of them, sounds like a good business model, I wish them the best but I won't be investing.

Uh, invest? Why not just use them and recommend them to friends? They need users most of all.

Unfortunately, micropayments encourage click-bait and pop-news (but that's not to say that advertising doesn't either). We've also have seen other failure modes with payment-per-article in academic journals, though payment is much larger there, so may not be a fair comparison.

In general a la carte payments usually lead to overall higher costs (e.g. Classic Blockbuster vs. Netflix).

My ideal system would be a Spotify-like system. I'd pay a flat rate for access to all news and then each organization gets a percentage of my payment proportional to the number of articles I read by them. That is, if I pay $10/mo and 50% of the things I read are on the New York Times, then they'd get $5 (ignoring margin for whatever entity manages this exchange).

I can't ever imagine news orgs opt-ing into this model though. Perhaps Apple could pull an iTunes-equivalent with Apple News?

Actually, I think the opposite might happen. If click-bait works by obfuscating the real headline of the article, then readers might choose not to click on a link due to uncertainty aversion. To put it simply, if click-bait works when you don't know what the article is about and it costs nothing to know, charging a fee (no matter how small) could kill it.

Chances are that you're not willing to spend enough per month.

The music industry is (according to googling) about $25BB a year for live events and $15BB a year for retail (streaming, downloads, discs, etc.)

Spotify's revenue is about $3BB/year, ballpark 10% of the revenue needed to support the music industry. (Spotify has its own expenses, which we are ignoring.)

News media can't command live event revenue the way music can, and their physical sales are disappearing faster than music's. That suggests, to use the music analogy, that subscribers to a Spotify-like system would have to support most of the approximately $25BB that this industry commands. Depending on how many news readers there are compared to music listeners, that's possibly $50-150/mo that would need to be asked of subscribers.

Outside of Financial Times subscribers (even that $600/year is ad-subsidized), most people aren't willing to spend this much on a newspaper. You can quibble with the numbers, but ultimately the news industry is more reliant on individual subscribers than the music industry.

That model effectively shuts down all news sites that don't make it into the News-Spotify program. Kinda of like how my telcom gives everyone "free Messenger/Whatsapp" so nobody is going to use anything but Messenger/Whatsapp.

Centralization is just going to get worse and worse until the internet feels like AOL back in 2000.

With modern web payment models and analytics, advertising is basically third-party micropayments, so it has all the adverse impacts of micropayments plus all the adverse impacts of the bill being paid by third parties whose interests are different from and often adverse to the news consumer.

Here's the approach I've been working on:

-Pay $~4/mo

-Every upvote you give during that month (not just views, since I think views encourage clickbait) gives an equal slice of that $4 pie.

-At the end of the month, a flat $1 goes to pay for server costs, then the rest is distributed evenly between every upvote.

You can see a mini-demo here: http://syd.jjcm.org/soci/

The nice part of it is it ranks by quality while distributing payments. Since payouts happen at the end of the month, it gives a buffer zone to "unvote" something should it turn out to be fake/stolen/etc. The $1/mo for server costs should be more than enough per user to keep things running smoothly without the need for ads/selling user data. I'm working on it solo right now, if anyone is interested in helping out I'd be more than happy to share the project. Or if you're just inspired by it, go ahead and copy it. I think it's a solid model and is worth pursuing, though I'd also appreciate criticism on it.

If things like Reddit are anything to go by, upvotes will quickly stop denoting quality and start denoting agreement with the perspective offered. In short, paying for an echo chamber.

Possibly, but I feel like at the very least if monetary value is attached to an upvote, then upvoting some meme will at least make you think, "Is this meme worth taking away money from the documentary I upvoted yesterday?"

It may devolve into paying for an echo chamber, but I have faith that at least a larger number of people will reconsider their votes if they know that the votes give a share of their pool of contribution.

That's basically what Medium is doing now, right?

They offer $5/month subscriptions, and the money from subscribers is distributed among those writers who published members-only content based on the amount of "claps" (likes) each subscriber gave.

I'm surprised people pay for Medium. The quality of their brand seems to me a little diluted by the many half-baked, amateur articles published through their platform. It's basically thought catalog. Though I do of course enjoy the articles from reputable sources.

Similar yea, though Medium is strictly blog posts. I feel like with the issues youtube is having with advertisers right now and things like imgur trying to monetize image hosting there needs to be a content platform that supports all media types.

Can you talk about how this compares to flattr?

I think the biggest thing is that flattr doesn't address the issues of ads intruding on privacy, nor does it guarantee that your user information isn't being sold as a way of monetization (since it's an add-on to an existing site rather than a content host itself). The one I'm trying to build does the hosting as well so we can guarantee that ads wont be present (at $1 per user per month, there shouldn't be a need for any additional revenue per user to stay running / make a small profit).

The other thing though is flattr doesn't deal with content discovery very well. It doesn't rank content, it simply measures your own. Think of the one I'm working on as a reddit/hn except upvotes distribute a portion of your payment pool, that way we get a quality hierarchy in addition to distributing payments.

If you think about it and abstract a bit, this is sort of the point of ads. Seeing an ad or two on display is like a micropayment of X cents to the content owner.

Except that advertising itself sets up perverse incentives and numerous negative externalities. It's also not free -- the world collectively pays over $600 billion for it, much of that from the advanced industrial nations, numbering roughly 1 billion people, so about $600 per person.

Contrast that with direct media expenditures of about $125 to $150 or so per person.

That exists. It's called Blendle, and it's awesome.

I probably won't pay a dollar per article, that'd be hundreds of bucks per month for me (if you count all articles I read, skim or glance at), but I'd pay a couple of cents. The problem is I don't see how to make pricing structure transparent, and how to avoid gateway problems like we have with cable TV - where to get 3 channels you need you have to subscribe to 200 channels of junk and pay for it all.

There should be a model where it does not incur significant cognitive load when I want to read an article, and does not allow abuse by dishonest players. I imagine some billionaires could be made that way. Brave browser team seems to be working on something like that, no idea how good it would be...

> What we desperately need is a real, useful micro payments model where you can pay per-article.

That would incentivize hit-and-run articles that cause sensation to milk micropayments, leading to a spiral of clickbait even worse than that caused by advertising.

I don't see it. Clickbait headlines just need to get you to the page even if the article is crap. Microtransactions would require articles to be worth something to the reader.

How will the reader know that the article is worth something unless they pay?

Won't they pay after reading the article and decide if it's worth it?

Why would they pay after they already read the article? If it is on the honor system people just aren't going to pay.

If you pay a fixed access fee either way, then it's just the matter of you deciding who gets the money. Since the money is already "spent", you may as well vote on the articles you like.

Micropayments and a fixed access fee are completely different models in my opinion.

With micropayments you are making small payments for articles as you go and not paying a fixed fee, the problem with that is that you end up with click bait headlines that people will pay for and garbage for actual content.

That's what I was thinking. And if not, they'll have to convince people like any other kind of media: reviews, previews, or even refunds.

Headlines are previews, and clickbait is just making the preview oversell the content, and is the natural result of pay-per-view micropayments, which a what web advertising is.

Isn't that more or less what Google Contributor program was trying to do?

The Guardian lets do one time payments. You have to get past them asking for subscriptions but the option is there. I would like to give to The Atlantic without getting a paper subscription but they don't have that last time I looked.

Here's what bothers me about micro-payments:

How does a consumer actually evaluate the price of the good?

How do I not browse to nytimes.com, because the subcent per scroll price has gone up?

I don't actually have an answer, but it's one that bothers me.

we are seeing/going to see a replay of such with streaming services as well. everyone wants their piece of a pie that isn't large enough for them.

the news has it harder as its content is not necessarily as unique as individual tv shows. the editorial content is unique per paper and a valid revenue stream provided the paper can assemble a valuable enough team with broad appeal. however charging for national and international news? too much competition, this is the last place to bet the paper on

I think you're talking about https://blendle.com/

I like the idea of browsers doing coin mining to use your electricity for micropayments, like a few sites already do.

Unfortunately, what we will get is a model where you pay Google some amount of money, and they divvy it up amongst the publishers.

AdWords/AdSense solved micro payments by bundling $0.01 clicks into monthly segments and. I expect google to try the same model with publishers, especially since a) adblockers are increasing, and b) google has already proved it can bully publishers into signing up for any "service" it offers.

Try Blendle. It does exactly what you want.

Micropayments don't scale either. Public funding for information. It's a public good. Treat it as one.


See GC Presents, "At the Graduate Center, we believe knowledge is a public good. This idea inspires our research, teaching, and public events. We invite you to join us for timely discussions, diverse cultural perspectives, and thought-provoking ideas.".


See GC President Chase F. Robinson, introducing a conversation between Paul Krugman and Olivier Blanchard. A rare moment where the introduction itself contains some provocative thoughts. At about 50s into the video. (The remaining 72 minutes and 20 seconds aren't bad either if you're interested in discussions of global economics.)


Joseph Stiglitz, "Knowledge as a Global Public Good," in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century, Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grunberg, Marc A. Stern (eds.), United Nations Development Programme, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 308-325.


This seemslike a reasonable idea but then you get into the hairy situation of government endorsing different biases. You can bet that a conservative pres/congress is going to push public funding towards more conservative sources and likewise for more liberal pres/congress. State funded news sources is not where we want to go.

We already have a system in which those who pay the piper instill biases.

Government is, at least, answerable (in theory) to the people in a way that no other alternative I'm aware of is: advertising, patronage, religious sponsorship.

Media are inherently propagandistic -- there is always an exceptionally strong incentive to manipulating, diverting, distracting, or otherwise controlling the public or oligarchical discussion.

I have no problem with this. But in return I should be able to opt out of results that I cannot view. A result for a news article that changes when I click on it to a "Please subscribe..." plea is not the result that was returned that I clicked on.

Unfortunately, like the AMP fiasco, I doubt this is what will happen as Google doesn't exist to serve it's users.

There was a time when Google made a public priority of the importance of the site showing the visitor the same thing it showed the search engine. I believe they called it cloaking or masking? Someone into SEO will probably know the details better than I.

If I click a link on Google, I should see the same results that Google 'saw.' I think a fancier word for this would be 'trust.'

So far, I like Google's results and make use of their personalized results. One of the reasons I do so is because I trust the results, for certain definitions of trust that is.

If I can't trust that the site showed me the same response that it showed Google, we have an erosion of that trust. It may be time for me to seek an alternative.

> I doubt this is what will happen as Google doesn't exist to serve it's users.

There intent is to serve users with quality, truthful information. If all the quality information goes out of business and gets replaced with "Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: Obama failed New Orleans during Katrina!!" then Google doesn't have any more quality information anymore.

Google and Facebook are becoming acutely aware of how easily dishonest propaganda can propagate through their systems and are trying to find a solution for that. One step is making sure that people who have to make a living finding the truth for us all have the means to get paid.

Also, it's a very small percent of users who dislike it (or even know AMP is a thing), and majority of them are developers who don't want their site cached. To claim that they don't serve their users is ridiculous.

Should Google give these providers payments in that case? It doesn't help if the first five links I get shown on Google I click only to find nothing but a pay wall. Maybe the money flow should be:

1. Google is best search engine, attracts most eyeballs looking to find content 2. Advertisers pay google to show their ads to my eyeballs 3. I use Google because it provides good, true, accurate content, when I click on a link to nytimes.com Google should pay nytimes.com a portion of the revenue they collected

Almost, kinda, makes sense maybe? Or maybe this'll be the revenue model for a post-Google source of information.

> Their intent is to serve users with quality, truthful information.

I thought their intent was to serve me the websites that I'm looking for. If their aim it to define truth, I want to see them broken up.

You block the sources in your Google News feed.


So "blocking paywalls" that appear accessible in Google Search is now "opt out"?

Ewww. This might be the time I hit Duck Duck Go.

To be clear, I have no issue with paywalls. But they should be flagged as such.

"Article title: blah blah blah [Subscription required to view content]" even.

But they won't do that, because publishers, who buy advertising, will scream because they KNOW their click through rates would plummet. After all, even with a paywall, you still get plenty of metrics and advertising bumps on that first click to the site.

> Google Search is now "opt out"?

No, not at all. It just doesn't let you get free articles behind the pay wall. So now you can either avoid the pay wall websites or you just block them.

Right. I have to go through and filter my search to remove each source that has "articles that are available to Google to index, but not to me, except for a fee".

Note that in no way am I complaining about using Google to avoid paywalls. I rarely bother.

I'm talking about having to filter out paid content that is indiscernible from free content.

Hm. But if the site shows only the title and summary to google shouldn’t they index at least that ? I could technically make a Wordpress site that pops up a pay wall after you click on “read more” and it won’t look different to google compared to a site without one.

AMP fiasco?

The whole thing where AMP is being enforced in Google, such that what were previously links to third-party sites are now served entirely from Google with a moderately-broken shell around them, and with no ability to opt-out of having search results hijacked in this manner.

DuckDuckGo has gotten a lot better and is now a pretty decent alternative. You lose some features and the UI is less visually pleasing, but you can always go back to Google when you know you want a specific feature.

I kinda hope they would put a symbol to indicate a paywall (for example, a green brick wall), like how some articles are labelled with a lightning bolt for AMP-ed pages.

Not the best headline. Here's the gist of it:

> "Google’s plans include doing away with the “first click free” policy, which requires subscription-based news outlets to offer three free articles a day through its search and news features, allowing users to skirt pay walls. A new program, which Google plans to start this week and is calling “flexible sampling,” will allow those publishers to determine how many free clicks to give Google’s users."

So sites can still give access to Google visitors (which I bet many will), but they just have more say over the specifics.

I happily pay for lots of services, but I just don't think many of these publishers are worth paying for.

I'm pretty tired of shitty clickbait headlines, and stories which cherry-pick a handful of twitter posts to make it seem like there's outrage over something.

Even worse, it seems like most publishers are dead set of trying to feed you their agenda. Why would I pay for misleading or intellectually dishonest articles?

These news paid sources are usually only valuable for local content. My local news paper' only redeeming value is it is local but it isn't $4 a week valuable.

I agree that $4*52 is expensive, but it could cost less if more people were subscribing. Unfortunately, even at a more reasonable price per month or week, I think papers wouldn't see a surge in subscribers in the current environment.

Short-term, I think people undervalue the value of local news. There are often a lot of info holes when it comes to local government and politics. I wonder if this has adverse affects that lead to less involvement in local politics except when a NIMBY issue appears, which doesn't seem like good governance.

Local news coverage, with the exception of major cities, tends to be sparse and often non-existent. Even for some major areas there can be a lot of holes in coverage.

This problem makes itself apparent to me when come election day I try to look up all of the candidates, and find no info for many of them that isn't from their own website (if it even exists).

It is going to bot created I am afraid to say. My city has good local coverage, a wee bit biased but it is local people in a School Board meetings and City Meetings at least.

Google is funding the creation of software that writes local news stories


Agreed... a paywall just means that the minimal interest I had drops to 0.

Just change your web browser's User-Agent to the Google crawler?

That said, some publishers are smart and also check to see if your IP is in a Google range.

EDIT: That is, you can check the PTR record of an IP: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/80553?hl=en

Hmm, I wonder if setting up a VPN on Google Cloud would do the trick.

You can set the PTR record of an IP to a domain you don't control. Most ISPs won't let you do that, though. Also, whatever host you set as the PTR record won't resolve back to your IP.

XS4ALL in the Netherlands lets you. I never knew I should be using it for that -- I just set it to match my email domain to end up in less spamboxes.

Sure, but like you said most consumer ISPs don't let you ;). A business is most likely going to subscribe if they need it, and us "hacker" types aren't cutting into their profits that much by circumventing heh.

IANAL, but this is probably a violation of DMCA anti-circumvention provisions.

Cue massive drops in traffic (again) and news orgs whining about it (again) and blaming the next boogeyman, whatever that is. Probably something something "piracy" etc.

Paying/subscribing for general-purpose news is old news. It had its time, and that time is over. Much like music industry CD sales with the real rise of p2p, news orgs will have to figure out what their "ipod" equivalent is going to be.

We should just go back to having newsies selling newspapers on the street corner for a nickle. Study has found that there is a direct correlation to musicals about newsies when they are a significant portion of the news ecosystem.

Like others I think a well done micro-pavement or bundle of payments would be nice.

One thing I think that is missing from the discussion is metrics. If you do a nice job building the site, and let users give an indication whether they want to see more or less coverage on the topic, you can offer this metrics data back to the news outlets, which can give them far better direction than simply looking at website clicks (which encourages click-bait). This, along with a slice of micro-payments would be valuable to them.

As a side note google gave me a free digital subscription to the nytimes for posting reviews on google maps. Is google or nytimes making money off of this?

Maybe non-subscribers should get a lite reader's digest type abstract of the article instead of the truncated/cloaked stuff that currently gets served on sites like WSJ. Most articles can probably be described in 50-100 words or less. The automatic truncation is often less descriptive than a good meta description would be.

Block the paid wall sources so you are not annoyed anymore.

I have CNET blocked due to their CBS and CES Fiasco and never unblocked them.


The O'Reilly Safari system is a great alternative to paywalls. You pay for Safari and it pays out royalties to the authors proportional to how many users read your book that month.

So an author of a book that had 200 readers would get roughly double the pay of one that has 100 readers.

I would gladly pay for a kind of all access pass that divided up my subscription money to the news sites I visited the most.

Of course, if someone goes to 200 different sites equally an individual publisher would get less from that customer but I think that's fair.

There's an older version of this principle used to compensate authors for library borrowing in the UK and other countries called Public Lending Right.

The government puts some tax money into a pot, and it's paid out to authors in proportion to the number of loans of their books. There's also a cap to stop the bulk of the money going to a handful of bestselling authors.

In some ways, this can be seen as croudsourcing decisions on government subsidy, which is an interesting model.

Publisher have one and mostly one way to be profitable. Shrink the overhead with 90%. If they cant do that most of them are simply not going to survive.

Subscription or no subscription.

archive.is still captures text from most of these.

Unfortunately there is no need to pay for news articles, there is a need to pay for RESEARCH and MEDICAL papers.

News? No.

Paywalls are a dying gasp being uttered by the publishing industry.

Here's why they don't work:

- If I respect a publication and feel that the content has value for me, I'll happily subscribe.

- If I click on a clickbait headline only to arrive at a paywall, it's like a small and unpleasant electric shock, punishing me for clicking the link.

- Paywall creators think that the combination of clickbait and paywalls is magical and gets people to subscribe, but it does not, it only creates negative emotion and irritation.

- There is no such thing as a free lunch. If publishers want subscribers they need to consistently produce high quality content day after day, week after week. They also need to forego the sugar high of clickbait.

- That means there can't be some sort of social virality genius telling the editor how to title articles and showing charts of all the clicks from Reddit, etc. Doing this may generate some incremental subscribers, but it does so at the cost of the publication's brand image.

- The approach Salon used of showing the first third or half of the article is better than a "You obviously love great journalism" banner. Let the content stand on its own and earn the subscription.

- I have not been able to bring myself to subscribe to the NYT or WaPo for one simple reason -- around half of the articles they publish are very low quality and many have clickbait headlines. The article headlines have the feel of being ads themselves that falsely represent the content of the article. In many cases the articles are pretty solid reporting, but the headlines oversell them as being the article that will bring down the Trump presidency.

If I were a journalist I'd be pretty outraged if I took the time to write a thoughtful article and then some virality genius retitled it something silly and tribe-oriented to get the shallowest of readers to thoughtlessly click it.

Agree. Also, the websites that try to get you to unblock ad blockers are equally irritating. Usually I just leave, and find another source of the same news. In many cases their ads are super annoying and CPU-intensive, which is the main reason I block them; it's not that I hate advertising itself. If they were just a simple <img> tag and a hyperlink without a huge pile of JavaScript bloat I would probably not bother blocking them.

Indeed. It's true, in a world where a major newspaper will decide to write a multi-page story about one of Trump's silly tweets and run it on the front page, it's not all that hard for a large number of news orgs to write a similarly informative story, and many make it available for free.

I agree about ads, but my least favorite are the ones that begin playing video in a tiny window that devours laptop battery life... It's strange to imagine the marketers who are designing these pages. They must imagine that all of us read only when watching TV is not an option, so they try to make the website as much like TV as possible, complete with a tiny screen that you can click on to simply shift into couch potato mode.

I find that the Anti-adblock killer list in uBlock takes care of most of these. There's an additional addon you can install that pushes it even further.

The fight against browsers rendering markup in the way their users want is a losing one.

> - If I respect a publication and feel that the content has value for me, I'll happily subscribe.

How much do you spend monthly supporting online publications?

Roughly $50

I'd argue that's better than most... I think a paywall with a soft funnel can do wonders to bring people to pay for content that they value.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that what I really object to is the clickbait headlines, since they cause me to use up my five free WaPo articles very quickly each month, only to be disappointed that the articles do not actually live up to the bait offered by the headline.

But I agree that the concept of a paywall is not necessarily evil. FWIW the sites I do pay for all have paywalled content.

Anyway, for the WaPo you can click on your browser's Reader Mode button and that bypasses the paywall. However I stopped to read the pop-up and they have a $20/year international subscription, so I decided to pay for that.

You're correct in that reader attitudes towards paywalls are generally negative [1]. You're incorrect in that (a) advertising appears insufficient to sustain a modern press apparatus, and (b) the Wall Street Journal, at the very least, showed paywalls can be financially lucrative [2]. Roughly comparing, on one hand weak paywall deployers, the NYT and Washington Post, and on the other hand strong paywall deployers, the WSJ and Financial Times, the latter appear to benefit more from said paywalls.

[1] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f3f8/85f3876f9c098bac89e5a1...

[2] https://hbr.org/product/the-new-york-times-paywall/512077-PD...

My intent was to critique the sort of viral content farm plus paywall approach that the NYT and WaPo are moving toward.

That approach increases the percentage of people who clicked on a viral headline only to find a paywall. The problem is not a fee for subscription, it's shoving the wall in the face of the reader while spending money to create and market clickbait viral headlines.

I realize that from the marketing perspective it's just a funnel, and the first step in the funnel is the headline copy. So none of the later steps (article engagement, etc.) matter unless the first step "succeeded" in generating a click.

But this doesn't work with news, which is probably why the NYT and WaPo are moving more toward marketing to a tribe of people with specific beliefs rather than writing news and analysis that can be relied upon for its consistency and objectivity.

The WSJ on the other hand has been running the same kind of news coverage and analysis for years, and has not really changed its approach to fit with a viral marketing strategy.

News and analysis used to be judged by consumers/subscribers for the overall information value it provided. Now, that step is being skipped and individual headlines and stories are being judged by how effectively they rise to the top of Facebook's news feed algorithm. It's a fundamentally different game and the WaPo and NYT are able to very effectively get stories into news feeds, and my guess is that the people responsible for that are getting praise and financial rewards for making it happen, yet the consistency and reliability of the publications is suffering tremendously.

News feed aggregation is biased by the people who like/click/engage with content, so content that does well might not be better quality than content that does poorly, it's just content that works better in that marketing channel.

Analogously, imagine if we evaluated food quality by how well it slid through a series of pipes, rode along a belt, and was then shoved by a robotic foot onto a plate. Some foods would work very well in that machine and end up on the plate reliably. Others would not.

What we're seeing is news orgs fundamentally changing how they report on events simply in response to the characteristics of news feed algos, which are simply crude machines just like the tube and belt contraption described above. It's a very hard to understand system, but more importantly there is tremendous dimensionality reduction going on in the cause/effect analysis. Dimensions like journalistic quality, consistency, and civic value are washed out by tribe affiliation value and the amount of dopamine generated when the viewer first reads the headline.

From the perspective of finding entertaining content to keep people logged into Facebook it works fantastically, but something is definitely lost in the process :)



Those who could find people to buy what they are producing, are already doing it on social funding platforms.

The models that are struggling are those who are not able to sell what they have to sell... a product that not only sold ad-space but infoticles, just like infomartials on TV or product placement in movies, there was paid bias in articles. In the days of Internet, no body wants to watch ads, not in the sidebar clearly labeled as an ad, or in the center of the page in terms of a info(ar)ticle.

I would rather pay to hear the bias of the person speaking, than letting a corporation tell that person what he or she can or can't write. There is banding together of like minded people to pool resources together to keep making progress on a cause, much better model than a corporation. Much efficient use of funds, time, energy. The only one to loose is the investor or influence seeker, who would have to do much more digging than just walking into an top floor office with a check in hands.

To block news sources in Google News go to Settings > Sources and add the domain to the Block section.

Used to have to add the source, then slide the frequency slider down to 0. Looks like Google automatically moved them to blocked.

Better yet, just have a setting to automatically block all sites using paywalls. They have a right to deploy paywalls, we have a right to request never to see them in our feed.

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