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The subscription-pocalypse (niemanlab.org)
92 points by dschuetz 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 147 comments

Does this guy know that before the internet most people paid money to subscribe to newspapers and magazines?

"The growth of the subscription model has been one of the biggest developments in online journalism in the past few years ... The subscription model makes a lot of sense for publishers. The advertising-based model that supported the industry for 100 years doesn’t work in a digital world where ..."

No, the subscription model has been the basis for the industry for the past 100 years.

He goes on:

"You can’t expect people to subscribe to their local paper (which is vital to democracy, we tell them) AND The New York Times and the Washington Post (because Democracy Dies in the Dark) AND Netflix AND Hulu AND HBO Go AND The Athletic AND ESPN Plus AND their favorite podcast on Patreon AND …"

Yet people were subscribed to a daily paper, 1 or 2 monthly magazines and a cable package with added charges for sports channels.

You have a good point but I feel overwhelmed with subscriptions today. Between personal and business I have easily got 40 or more paid subscriptions. It's not just media but software too. Mac apps, iPhone apps, web apps. They're hard to cancel and easy to forget (until I check my bank statements). And they dip into my bank account with no renewal confirmation or approval. And they'll happily self-renew for the next year without being used once in the last year.

Of course I signed up to and pre-authorised all of this, and forgot to cancel when I stopped using them, so it's 100% my own fault. But something doesn't feel right about it.

> But something doesn't feel right about it.

Why did you suscribe in the first place? The best way to avoid paying is to not register.

I set a recurring calendar appointment to remind me to cancel things like this.

I think there's been a sea-change about what people think is a reasonable subscription cost.

I don't know how much my parents paid to get a physical newspaper delivered when I was growing up, but when I looked how much the Times costs to be delivered I was absolutely staggered that it would cost me nearly £500 a year.

I don't know if the price has changed, or my tolerance for subscription costs has changed, but as a millenial I can't even begin to justify spending that much money on a newspaper.

That's because with only the Guardian that I can think of offhand as exception, media seems to think the "right" price to pay for a web site subscription is about the same as you might pay for a paper delivered 365 days. Newspapers seem to have increased cost far in excess of inflation.

Seem to remember (this could be very fallible) I was paying around 50p for a Guardian or Telegraph in the 90s and early 00s. Tabloids might have been 25p or 30p. £1 and up feels far too much for a paper, even now.

Obviously we've all adjusted how we read as well. Instead of taking everything from one site we might graze half a dozen sites for news, and a full subscription might feel too much for any of them. The few lite subscriptions I've looked at didn't feel that light.

In the old print days, subscriptions (or the cover price) only covered a small part of a publication’s costs. Perhaps just enough to cover printing and distribution, if that.

The majority of print revenue always came from advertising - a revenue stream that is apparantly drying up in the online era.

Yup, and it was much more benign. No tracking. Whole supplements you could skip if you weren't looking for a new car or holiday. Take more interest when you're thinking of decorating or kitchen replacement.

Actually for many newspapers in the US the classifieds were a major revenue contributor.

FYI 50p in 1990 is 94p today adjusted for inflation

Yet the actual papers are about £2 now.

The NYT (1EUR / week), WaPo (1.5-2.25 USD / week), Guardian (6-7 USD / week) are constantly updated, multiple times every day, how many actual papers does that equal?

Having a physical paper printed and delivered seems to be much more difficult than serving a website, as the latter has marginal cost close to 0. I think people are more understanding of paying a few bucks to get a pound of paper than paying a few bucks to open a website in their browser.

My first job was at a regional newspaper and I recall one of the directors responding to my enquiry about the difference in cost of our two main titles - it might have been offered hyperbolically, but he stated that they were entirely arbitrary - they could in fact offer them for free if they chose (they in fact had some free downmarket titles). It was the advertising that paid for the entire enterprise. The cover price was simply a bonus and mostly went to the retailer.

The crazy thing is that the digital only subscription is still over £300.

Thankfully my employer pays for another newspaper subscription (but not one I'd personally chose to take, which is why I looked at the Times.)

Prices are determined by what they are worth to the customer, not by the cost of goods. That must mean that someone is willing to pay that much for it. (I'm not).

> Prices are determined by what they are worth to the customer, not by the cost of goods.

I know that. I never said anything about costs, so I'm not sure why you're telling me this.

> That must mean that someone is willing to pay that much for it.

I'm sure that's literally true. But they may be making a mistake and setting the price wrong for what the market could support and to maximise their income.

> But they may be making a mistake and setting the price wrong for what the market could support and to maximise their income.

What we here do not know is whether they have already done that calculation and determined, based upon whatever basis they used for estimating, that their maximum income is, in fact, at their present price point.

The marginal cost is only zero within each size category you exist in. It scales as you grow readership in strange ways. An additional 1000 subscribers might mean you need to spin up an extra VM to handle small loads. That's fine, still have marginal costs close to zero. At 10.000 more subscribers you need to diversify your coverage. More content producers cost money. 100.000 more subscribers some critical infrastructure breaks unless you employ sysadmins to manage it. And so on and so forth.

Having a physical paper printed and delivered seems to be much more difficult than serving a website, as the latter has marginal cost close to 0.

Presumably much of the cost of serious journalism is in the journalism, not the mechanics. It would make sense for the online version to be somewhat cheaper than the paper one with physical delivery, but it wouldn't surprise me if the real difference in production costs was only a few pence plus whatever postage costs them.

While you are right in that having subscriptions was much common last century. It is my understanding that the field of media studies accept advertising as a central force in the development of mass media.

"With a few exceptions – television in the United States and the free daily tabloid – there are no media which from their very beginning have not used advertising as a source of revenue [...] The influence of advertising on the media development started during the 19th century with the popular newspapers. It was the common interest among media owners and advertisers to reach the masses that connected advertising and media and made them mass media and mass advertising. The productions techniques that were introduced in that century allowed mass circulations but it was impossible to conquer a large audience with the contents of the contemporary elite papers, expensive to buy and hard to read. The contents were changed and the prices were reduced. In order to make them very low, advertising was accepted as a second source of revenue. The papers were sold on the streets or home delivered anything that would bring the papers closer to the readers. In order not to discourage subscription, weekly subscription was introduced."[0]


> No, the subscription model has been the basis for the industry for the past 100 years.

Not in the UK, FWIW. I know the American magazine industry is subscription-based but the UK magazine industry has historically made most of its sales on the newsstand. UK publishers have been pushing to move readers to subscriptions for 20-plus years, though - not so much because of the advent of the internet, but because of the intermediaries who take their cut (wholesalers, distributors) and, most of all, the sheer avarice of WH Smith, historically the UK's biggest magazine vendors. Everyone I knew in publishing _hated_ Smiths with a vengeance.

(writing as a former UK magazine editor)

I always wish people when commenting on the Internet state where these basis are. This is the first time I heard subscription model were used before in US. Everywhere else I lived and travel operate similar to UK industry; Newsstand.

I think it goes with suburbia and sprawl. Newspapers and magazines were delivered to homes by "paper boys" or the mailman via monthly subscription. In this culture, the morning edition papers were the bulk of the news, followed closely by evening television.

There is no village street with newstands nor any other vending. Many going to work were driving their car from their suburban house to a factory with a giant parking lot. Even the suburban professionals who would commute into the city by train were likely to receive their paper at home and read it there with their morning coffee or carry it with them to the train station to mostly read before they even arrived in the city.

Yet people were subscribed to a daily paper, 1 or 2 monthly magazines and a cable package with added charges for sports channels.

I think true, but I also think it's likely that there's an upper limit to the number of subscriptions someone will accept. In the past having a newspaper, a couple of magazines, and a TV service meant you had to manage ~4 subs, but today people are being pushed towards having a music service, several TV services, a gaming service, some sports channels, maybe a pay-for podcast, a news website. That's a lot of cognitive load. If there's an upper limit people will hit it fast, and anything that provides minimal utility is going to get cancelled. If your service only provides a handful of TV shows (eg HBO) it's likely to lose out to, say, Netflix that provides hundreds. That raises the question of whether or not these smaller subscription services will ever work in today's world.

It's also true that people won't accept two things that provide similar services. No one is buying Apple Music and Spotify if they can help it. Once the market is saturated services are going to go hard on getting people to switch in order to grow, which is an expensive way to get new customers. It could be that the cost of getting someone to move from one to another is more than the lifetime value of that customer, and that throws a big spanner in the market economics of running such a service.

> No, the subscription model has been the basis for the industry for the past 100 years.

I had always been told that the subscription price was to cover the marginal cost of printing and delivery, but the majority of revenue for most publications was from advertising, which was meant to cover the cost of creating the content, whether it be entertainment or journalistic.

That having been said, you would see many things bundled together in the past, so your newspaper subscription would get you a weekly magazine, and as you mentioned with the split between basic and premium cable packages.

Depends hugely on the publication. Some magazines make their money from advertising, others from copy sales. The last publisher I worked for had three magazines in the same market: a freesheet entirely funded by advertising, a premium title entirely funded by the cover price, and a hybrid.

I think what changed with the internet is un-bundling. The newspaper used to provide a lot of functions, such as news, entertainment, puzzles, what's on tv, movie reviews, sports, etc. Now there are individual services that provide better individual components focused on our interests. For instance, a publication dedicated only to your sport will provide a better product that the newspaper's sports writer.

The reason people had all these subscriptions before is because they were covering all their bases of interest. Now you can shop around each individual component. Since you're not going to enjoy as many aspects of the newspaper anymore due to more specialized alternatives, you won't value the newspaper as much and may not be willing to pay for it.

I work in the news industry and I think you're completely underestimating the severity of this problem. It's not 3-5 subscriptions. It's 20+.

I get what you are saying, but if used everything I would like to use I'd spend maybe a quarter of my paycheck every month. On random subscription things. Everything is subscription based and feels like I have to pay separate subscriptions for every bus I take, you know

That just means subscriptions might usually be too expensive, not that the model has some intrinsic issues.

Budgeting is "being an adult 101"...

You cannot get "everything you would like", that's life.

In the ad-funded internet, you really can get everything you like; you can even block ads if you don't want the inconvenience. What this discussion is really about is whether and how long this will dry up the supply of good content or replace it with bad.

> most people paid money to subscribe to newspapers and magazines?

To a few. Many cities had multiple newspapers, but very few people subscribed to more than one or to any other city's. Now the industry seems to expect that people will shell out for many more separate subscriptions.

> people were subscribed to a daily paper, 1 or 2 monthly magazines

One difference is that broadcast news was most people's primary source of news for a long time, and it was free. Also, people could buy one issue of a newspaper or magazine, at any box or news stand or grocery-store checkout line. No need for a subscription. No need to pay that ongoing cost, either in terms of money or in terms of risk for personal-data compromise.

The subscription model as it commonly exists - separate, permanent, all or nothing - is going to kill its users. Shared subscriptions ("5 stories per month on any of these sites") are going to be an absolute must. Limited-duration subscriptions will probably be necessary too. A single story is too granular, but single-week or single-month might work.

I'm sure the papers have done their own analyses and concluded that those approaches would bring in less revenue. That might even be true, if they consider their own subscription in isolation and only in the present day. The problem is that "subscription fatigue" is a problem across many subscriptions and is going to become worse over time. If their models don't account for that, their models are broken.

I find it hard to take any "before the internet" sentiment seriously in 2019. It's been a while and things have changed, drastically, and we are not going back.

The thing about the internet is links. When I (theoretically) open a daily paper there is nothing for me to click on. The publisher has to make sure that the whole thing is self contained and can be consumed without any outside reference.

Websites, by design, are not self contained and that is because of links. Being able to reference other content through links is fundamental to how the internet works. The subscription/paywall model is anti-internet, because it breaks links.

While I do find some of the authors reasoning questionable, I concur: The classic subscription model, even though it may be the very thing that is keeping some publications afloat and very profitable, is deeply flawed for the internet.

It's been a while and things have changed, drastically, and we are not going back.

Unfortunately, those changes have also involved replacing a lot of the better quality journalism -- genuine investigative reporting, expert analysis, insightful commentary -- with the dominance of third-hand reporting, your mate from the pub's analysis, targeted propaganda and clickbait headlines.

Real, substantial journalism still takes time and hard work and resources, and all of that still costs real, substantial money. Maybe "we are not going back" is today's reality, but going forward we certainly need to improve on the economic models we have today or the race to the bottom will continue until good quality journalism ceases to be a viable occupation.

> targeted propaganda and clickbait headlines

The UK tabloids have been quite capable of doing this in print before the Internet.

Yes, but the broadsheets weren't tabloid quality in those days. The culture of linking and aggregation and snippets hurts them as much as the red tops.

The thing with newspapers is not outbound links but inbound ones. We can see that on this very website; how much of HN is inbound links to news sites? How often do people complain that the inbound links are GDPR-broken or paywalled?

This is where the recent EU copyright directive controversy came from, an attempt to assert copyright in inbound link titles and snippets.

What I think customers would find most convenient is paying the aggregators (HN, twitter, FB etc) who would then pay on towards the content creators. The second-order effects of that system would probably be destructive though: spamming and new forms of clickbait.

The Brave browser is an interesting approach but I'm not going to use it unless I have to, and so I suspect for most people.

At least when you cancel your magazine or newspaper subscription, they don't yank access to all the content you received while you were subscribed.

It isn't a new model, but I'm not sure it is a good model. A lot of these subscriptions are borderline abusive.

My family bought the Sunday paper (longer and more expensive than the weekday editions) at a newsstand. I wouldn't be so sure subscriptions were most of their revenues -- they were actually discounted wrt what you would pay at the newsstand. Yet newsstands existed.

He specifically says 'online journalism'. He also points out the reduction in advertising revenue which has also been 'the basis for the industry' for the past 100 years.

Also, think about the most successful subscription business ever: insurances. Hardly a new thing.

> No, the subscription model has been the basis for the industry for the past 100 years.

And that's the reason the industry is dead -- the model is unsustainable.

Here's what I'm willing to do:

* you commit to writing one interesting piece a day. I pay you a $1 a year.

I will probably be willing to do it for a hundred authors. I figure that's like 20 cappuccinos a year. I will probably be willing to do the same for 100 video producers ( i like cooking videos, video reviews of products and photography/video videos ) and probably a few other things. But there's no way I'm paying for Philadelphia Inquirer -- Will and Trudy spew the same kind of content I can read in the Opinion section of New York Times or SFC and I am not paying for it twice.

* you commit to writing one interesting piece a day. I pay you a $1 a year.

One a day? Nothing researched or investigative then.

For $1 a year? Only the worst of the "anything for a click" would seem likely to survive that model.

Yes. You have 300k readers? Hello $300k. You have a million readers? Hello, a million a year! Half of the United States reads you? Well, hello 160 million.

You have 30 readers total? Well, you should probably get a job washing gas station floors - because your writing is just not that good.

The subscription-everything model is something that has really bothered me for a while.

As a person that doesn't do things "regularly" I don't want to be stuck paying per-month for certain things. More importantly, is that some of these things I will use so infrequently, and that you can't "keep" after you've paid your subscription, they become cost-ineffective.

I have video streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Now TV, Crunchyroll), email, back-up storage, software licenses, music, coffee, gym membership... the list goes on.

When I got married, I subscribed to Photoshop CC to create something as a gift for my wife, I used it once, and was then stuck in a 1 year contract, I missed the renewal and got stuck in another year contract. I ended that as soon as I could, but having had no need to use it up until that point, I'd paid for 2 years worth of CC (~£200) to use it once, and now the subscription was done, I couldn't use it again.

I have an IDE I use 3-4 times a year, but I have to pay monthly subscription with a minimum 1 year contract. After that year you fall back not to the version you're on, but the version before it.

More and more services are moving to this model, with no alternative model for those like myself that don't need, nor want to use something every week, or every month, or even every year.

There is a point where I have to draw the line at adding more monthly subscriptions to my outgoings.

I don't mind this model for some things, consumables, such as coffee, fine, Netflix, which I use frequently, fine, but this only suits my usage, and others probably have other things in that list they use frequently.

This model might be working for a lot of companies right now, but there must be people like myself that will happily pay X for some software/thing I get to keep and use indefinitely (within reason) and are simply not buying at all because the pricing model doesn't work for us.

>When I got married, I subscribed to Photoshop CC to create something as a gift for my wife, I used it once, and was then stuck in a 1 year contract,

To be fair in your situation I would have a hard time justifying the one-time purchase price if they still offered it. Back when they had this business model Photoshop CS6 cost about $700, there are cheaper alternatives for a one-time use unless you absolutely required Photoshop and piracy wasn't an option.

But more generally I feel your pain. I prefer the model where you get updates as long as you pay for the license but if you stop you get to keep whatever version you're currently using as-is. Photoshop on the other hand becomes unusable if you stop paying for the subscription.

>I don't mind this model for some things, consumables, such as coffee, fine, Netflix, which I use frequently, fine, but this only suits my usage, and others probably have other things in that list they use frequently.

I actually wouldn't like that for coffee because my usage is not always the same. Sometimes I have guests and I need more, sometimes I'm on vacations and I use less.

I think the subscription model works best for things that are constantly moving and require constant updates and maintenance. Netflix's catalogue is always changing so it makes sense to pay a subscription. Some software is updated constantly and it makes sense to pay to always have the latest version. Often you also get support which might be absolutely necessary with some expensive professional software.

For applications like Photoshop that arguably don't need to be updated that aggressively it seems more like a scam to get more money in the long run without having to come up with meaningful new features to motivate the users to buy newer versions. Just purchase a Photoshop license and pay forever and ever.

Absolutely, there are many companies whose pricing model is designed to maximise the money they make from you without being what I'd call "fair". That's their prerogative though, they're a business after all.

As for the coffee, I buy it for at work, so it's just me, and I know I'll be at work every day, again, a model that suits me. My "home coffee" I buy as and when, and don't use a subscription model, because it's a different requirement. I guess this is one case of a single person needing two separate pricing models for the same product.

> and was then stuck in a 1 year contract

This is the key thing that bothers me with subscriptions: they often screen £x/month while making little or no mention (outside of the small print) that this is for a minimum of 12 months, or sometimes the 12 months is not rolling (so if you use 13 months, you pay for 24).

Yep, this is what got me with CC, I didn't need it for the latter 10 months of the first year, and they won't let you cancel early, or set up a "finish" date, you can only "end" the contact within a month of the year end, of course, 10 months down the line I forgot, and rolled over, because they sent me a renewal email confirmation a few days later, at which point I was stuck in another year.

Unlike a mobile network (at least here in the UK), CC doesn't switch to monthly-rolling after a year.

Yeah see in my opinion a monthly contract that has a minimum duration of a year is not a monthly contract. I don't believe in that. So I just charged back all of the billings. I don't know who at Adobe decided they'd be better off scamming money from people but they've clearly gone ahead and made that decision.

It is worse than "a monthly contract with a minimum of one year". It is an annual contract billed monthly. With the former you'd pay 13 months if you cancelled in the 13th, with the latter you pay for 24.

CC contracts are kind of funny, because they are 1 year contracts with auto renewal, and they don't give you an easy option to cancel them, but if you happen to pay with a virtual credit card which happens to run out of funds after 1 month, then the contract gets canceled and the penalty for that is... none.

This seems dishonest if you know the agreement is for a year and then you use a virtual credit card to get around that.

It is no more a dark pattern than an auto-renewing annual subscription sold as a monthly one with no easy way to cancel ahead of time (assuming what others have said is correct there - I have no first-hand experience on that point as I've never subscribed).

I know two wrongs don't make a right, but then again neither does one.

And I count three dark patterns from them before we get to counting the one from that user, so that should be "four wrongs don't make a right, but three don't either"!

> I'd paid for 2 years worth of CC (~£200) to use it once

That's the reason why these companies are using this model.

> with no alternative model for those like myself

The market will always decide. Affinity for example, has some competitors for Adobe, and they make it very clear on their web-page with wording it as "No subscription. Only €54.99".


The pendulum is at the max of one direction right now (in my opinion), and we will soon see it swinging back to its center (and of course to the other direction, as it always does)

Affinity may very well be the one I mentioned in another comment that is a competitor to PS, sadly it's only on the two OSs I don't use or I'd have bought it in a heartbeat.

The Photoshop one really bugs me. Before subscriptions they had to add compelling new features in order to convince me to upgrade. After subscriptions they have nearly zero insentive to add new features and many of the features they have added seem really superfluous. If feels like they are just sucking money out of my pocket because they can.

I think they know that certain people _need_ Photoshop, there are some alternatives that are reportedly pretty good for Mac, I have no experience with those, nothing on Linux/FOSS really compares, and they've found a way to milk as much money with as little effort as possible.

Back in the CS days, if we had something equivalent to CS 6.5 these days, I could justify spending £400 on it for the whole suite (other than the fact I don't run Windows and I don't think they support Linux), but there is no such option.

It would seem that pay-per-use would be a better model for products used infrequently... for example, tax filing software.

Each use would have to be quite expensive for that to be practical for most services, especially for things like tax filing software where most people will want to use it a couple of times at a specific time each year.

While that expense might well be significantly less than paying for an annual subscription (often the minimum) it would be hard to market as you would have to combat the fact that it would feel expensive to those looking with the view to maybe buying (humans are not rational creatures, despite what we like to believe, and often fail to correctly compute the relative worth of things).

I can see this working, for example, my use case for CC (see my original comment), if they'd charged me ~£5 for 24 hours use or something, I'd have been quite happy with that.

If I'd used it for a whole week, it would have cost me £35 instead of me using it once and it costing me ~£200 (albeit, only really ~£100, if their dodgy renewal practices hadn't got me tied in for another year).

Would this be an appropriate time to plug FOSS? I can never tell..

I'm exclusively a Linux user these days, have been for ~4-5 years. Photoshop CC, for my wife's anniversary gift was the last time I used Windows because I had to, that was ~4 years ago.

I'm 100% for FOSS, I support it, I'm happy to donate to it, but honestly there aren't always FOSS tools that can replace what's out there.

I honestly tried using GIMP to do the work I needed, but have you tried using GIMP circa 2015 on a 4K display? It's unusable. Even without the scaling issues it's harder to use than CC, and I'd additionally had experience with PS previously.

Further, the IDE I use every day for my work (on Linux), is second to none, and there is simply nothing comparable in the FOSS space (I've tried many options); If I want to be productive, I _must_ use this IDE.

I'd love if we could get more money into FOSS projects to make them first-class citizens, and I'm trying to do my part, I just don't know that it's an easy problem to solve.

I have experience with both PS and GIMP, and for simple tasks they are pretty much the same. Actually PS does some things in a slightly less intuitive way.

The strong points of PS are a better optimization of some common professional workflows, and the plugin ecosystem... which most people using it just once or twice a year don't need.

Twitch/youtube/patreon subscription model is the future.

Why subscribe to several newspapers (where you don't care for 90% of the content), if you could subscribe to the exact 13 authors that write about stuff you like, and never miss any of their articles, and never need to look through 30 pages of crap to find that?

I'm seeing a lot of business models that would never work without twitch - a guy that's streaming pen&paper RPG sessions. He's not even streaming in English, but in Polish (much smaller audience). And he earns very good money (it helps he's awesome at storytelling :) ).

Another guy earns a living by streaming his commentary on interesting starcraft matches.

Another streams coding his game (but he's not doing it full-time).

The best thing is - if the community is in the sweet spot (like 100-1000 people) - you can interact with the people in chat, and it's not fake interaction like on TV or in radio - when you write something you know the "celebrity" will read it and likely respond to it. It makes the audience much more engaged than with traditional media.

Every niche hobby is now a marketable skill if you have a little charisma and a lot of time. There should be something like that, but for text.

> Why subscribe to several newspapers (where you don't care for 90% of the content), if you could subscribe to the exact 13 authors that write about stuff you like, and never miss any of their articles, and never need to look through 30 pages of crap to find that?

Because looking through 30 pages confronts me with topics and perspectives I wouldn't have selected otherwise. Which enhances my perception. A well written op-ed to which I disagree is among the best things a paper can deliver as it challenges my view.

I certainly agree that it's beneficial to the consumer, but... I subscribe to the local paper which shares my political view, and I only read one of the opposing papers whenever I get a chance. I appreciate the same aspects as you do, it just doesn't seem likely I'll spend actual money subscribing to the other paper, when that would in fact be equal to financing a political movement I disagree with. I bet others feel the same.

What GP writes about, though, reads more like the future of entertainment, not news. I don't see the harm in that, as long as there are ways to get recommended other stuff than what you watch every day.

One side effect of this narrowing of channels is, I seem to have fewer and fewer cultural references in common with my more senior colleagues who still watch broadcast TV.

Them: Did you watch the game last night? Me: Do you mean CS GO Katowice qualifiers or the big DOTA tournament?

> I only read one of the opposing papers whenever I get a chance.

A point to this is that a "good" paper also publishes op-eds from "the other side" And sometimes those are really well written, really trying to convince you instead of just preaching the choir.

The thing I saw often pre-Internet was that people had a local paper, a national paper and maybe a weekly magazine/paper.

I myself currently am subscribed (as in paying, my RSS Reader has lots more) a local epaper and a national weekly printed paper. The later is nice (except I often disagree with many views stated) as it lives outside the fast breaking news cycle of the inline world and by being paper I really look through it (unless I spend too much time elsewhere ...) page by page instead of quickly scrolling through my RSS feed or quickly scanning over news sites.

> What GP writes about, though, reads more like the future of entertainment, not news.

Yes, the amount of ways to spend leisure time increased a lot. The amount of media one can consume is incredible, which leads to ...

> , I seem to have fewer and fewer cultural references in common with my more senior colleagues who still watch broadcast TV.

... less of a common experience. The big TV events, the big news, ... it becomes all a more unique experience. Even with TV shows "everybody" watches: In the morning, after an episode of some show was released there is this one guy in the office "oh please don't spoil, I haven't watched that episode, yet" in the past there was this guy "oh damn, I missed it, please tell me what happens, so I can follow along next week"

>> Why subscribe to several newspapers (where you don't care for 90% of the content), if you could subscribe to the exact 13 authors that write about stuff you like, and never miss any of their articles, and never need to look through 30 pages of crap to find that?

By doing this with news people tend to create their own echo chambers and I don't know if this is a good thing. Especially with news I try to read different sources and opinions about a topic before I can form my own view.

Yes, that's a valid concern, but expecting people to subscribe to newspapers they disagree with is IMHO too much. I may occasionally buy a newspaper I disagree with. I won't subscribe to it.

Especially when polarization of the society is so strong that half of that press is actively insulting the supporters of "the other side".

For example - I've read a few issues of "Do Rzeczy" - pro-government press in Poland that my father subscribes to. I've learnt that I'm a traitor, a communist, a thief, and a deviant, because I disagree with the government and participate in demonstrations. I have very little desire to read such news on a daily basis and even less to pay for it.

I'm more likely to read articles by Łukasz Warzecha (who is also writing for that newspaper, but at least usually doesn't insult his political enemies, and tries to stop the more absurd witch hunts they do), than to read the whole thing on a regular basis.

So, in my opinion - in this case the twitch subscription model is better, too. There is a niche for "less polarizing disagreement" and authors could build their personal brands basing on that (just like some build theirs by being the most controversial ones).

There's the issue of discoverability, but news aggregators solve this better, than traditional press.

Why subscribe to several newspapers

Because a great deal of journalism is not just a matter of individual authors. You can't report from Aleppo or commission polls or or spend months investigating something complicated as a hobby.

What does being an individual author have to do with doing it as a hobby? Why can't you report from Aleppo as long as you get the money to pay your salary and expenses?

A better example might be something that requires a large team, like analyzing large amounts of data, but the ICIJ shows you don't need journalists to be employed by a single organization to be able to collaborate.

What does being an individual author have to do with doing it as a hobby?

The comment I'm replying to talks about ways to make money with your hobby online.

Why can't you report from Aleppo as long as you get the money to pay your salary and expenses?

It's a warzone.

It's a warzone.

I'm not sure what you hope to gain from a reply like this. Either I'm too ignorant to argue with (which is perfectly possible), but then what's the point of keeping up the conversation, or you I'm not, and then I have to wonder if you consider that a valid "argument".

As far as I know, freelance warzone reporters exist and are actually quite plentiful compared to salaried warzone reporters. And as far as I know, even those salaried warzone reporters mostly have to fend for themselves, at most relying on the newspaper's press card, since "it's a warzone" and the newspaper doesn't give them a force field against bullets or the automatic trust of the locals.

So I don't see why, assuming enough cash can be raised to pay for their expenses, freelancer warzone reporters must rely on newspapers buying their articles at 50¢/word instead of a broad base of individual contributors.

But hey, I'm probably quite wrong. I wouldn't know it from your replies, though.

at most relying on the newspaper's press card

In other words, at most leveraging the name-recognition and reputation of the organization they're affiliated with for the safety and access necessary to do their jobs. It seems we actually agree and you've come up with a succinct answer to the question you raised.

Nope. Not necessary. Helpful? Yes. Mandatory? No.

Also, you don't need to be an employee of a news organization to get a press pass.

The question was 'why should one subscribe to a newspaper' not 'should newspaper subscriptions be compulsory'.

> The comment I'm replying to talks about ways to make money with your hobby online.

That was an example.

> It's a warzone

People still live there. English-speaking people too.

That was an example.

Sure. It's an example that doesn't apply to journalism well which is why there are such things as newspapers one subscribes to.

People still live there. English-speaking people too.

Indubitably. The work of visiting journalists in crisis zones would be impossible without their help, often at tremendous personal risk. But that just makes the notion that journalism can be replaced by individuals armed with a keyboard and a patreon account more, not less preposterous.

It was an example to show that you don't need to subscribe to an agregator. You can subscribe to the content-creator directly.

> But that just makes the notion that journalism can be replaced by individuals armed with a keyboard and a patreon account more, not less preposterous.

Would be nice to explain why it must be a visiting journalist.

you don't need to subscribe to an agregator. You can subscribe to the content-creator directly.

Yes. My point is that, say, the New York Times is not an 'aggregator'. They are the content creator.

Would be nice to explain why it must be a visiting journalist.

My claim is that you fundamentally misunderstand and/or misrepresent how journalism works. I don't think you can rebut that claim by asking me to derive journalism for you via the axiomatic method. I'm happy to try the Socratic one, though - can you think of a reason why it must always be 'visiting diplomat'?

Spare me the erudition, just say how it works according to you if you think I'm wrong.

It's a whole thread of me describing ways in which I think you're wrong. I'm not sure I understand what you're asking.

You haven't explained why it is that journalists can't work without newspapers, when newspapers aren't needed to reach readers anymore.

I think you haven't explained how and why it is reporters don't need editors, photographers, lawyers, stringers, publishers, regular paycheques, bookers, interpreters, etc. You just declared those things superfluous and suggested you should be able to purchase I dunno, Maggie Haberman's or David Fahrenthold's output a-la-carte and that would somehow work for them both practically and economically. I'm not the one going out on some oddly unsubstantiated limb here.

However, this way you hit the ceiling for how much people can afford for subscriptions. You get the rabid fans but no one else. Too much fragmentation IMO.

I'd like a service (perhaps Patreon can do it) that asks "how much do you want to pay monthly?" and "who do you want to support?" and then distributes your $10, or $100, or $1000, whatever you can afford, to everyone in your list. It will end up as pennies from each subscriber, but it will encourage more subscribers so hopefully it can even out or even produce more money.

> Every niche hobby is now a marketable skill if you have a little charisma

and can properly speak English. It's really hard to find a niche audience when you speak Dutch, but retaining one's charisma while speaking a non-native language is really difficult as well.

That's what I thought too, but all my examples were doing it in Polish, which has only about 2 times more speakers than Dutch.

Oh, huh - I missed that reading your comment the first time. That's cool then, I guess.

I think that the point he'd like to make (a bit clumsily, IMHO) is that we should NOT rely on SUBSCRIPTIONS only. We need more micropayments for single-shot buys.

When I was younger (but then, I'm from Europe), me and my parents subscribed to almost nothing, EXCEPT what we really and totally bought every single time - that was one (1) comic book magazine that I was buying every single week.

Newspapers? Sometimes my parents would read it at the local bar, sometimes at a friend's, sometimes at work, sometimes we would buy it, I'd say 2-3 times a week. But then: WE COULD CHANGE the newspaper every time! And, we DID switch what we bought, cycling between 2-3 newspaper we liked, so we had a kind of 360-degree view on what was happening.

Subscriptions prevent that kind of behaviour.

Big agree.

Micropayments turn the model upside down: the newspaper subscribes to a micropayment service, and web browsers have a whitelist of sites and prices they're willing to pay, by pageview, by word, etc.

Everyone gets paid, malware and ads are not necessary.

I have wanted, for a while now, for news sites to get together and figure out some shared form of monetization - pay a single rate, and get access NYT, Huffpo, bloomberg, etc., maybe with an option to pay more depending how much or on which sites I read the article.

Or a single site where I could access and manage subscriptions to multiple sites. I WANT to subscribe to newspapers/new sites, but I don't want to be subscribed to 5 different subscription schemes and juggling that.

In The Netherlands some start-up is trying that business model and they also recently became active in the USA [0].


[0]: https://launch.blendle.com

Thanks, I just signed up for the beta - it looks genuinly intriguing

Or alternatively pay per article - which is in the works: http://blendle.com/

This exists through your local library. Most in Canada subscribe to a service that lets you read 100s of newspapers (from a number of countries) for free online (or the nominal cost of a yearly library membership).

I like this but there's potential to end up in a similar situation to where we will be soon with video streaming services.

> How many news organizations or writers or blogs or podcasts do you pay for every month?

Honestly, zero. There's just too much great free content. If a podcast I like to listen to or a blog I follow dies because they don't earn enough from it, fine, that'll free up the time to follow something else.

And I say it as someone who has their own blog and podcast and doesn't expect to be paid for it. The fact that someone spends their time listening to what I have to say is a sufficient reward for me.

For streaming video this was for the most part not such an issue due to Netflix, but as we're seeing more streaming services launch, this is going to become a problem again. There's CBS All Access if you want to watch Star Trek. Disney & Apple are launching their own streaming services. Want to watch the Lord of the Rings TV show, I guess you'll need to get Amazon. Then there's still HBO and services like that. I predict we'll see pirating ticking back up after it fell in recent years.

If you think newspaper subs are bad try looking at some specialist software. Maintenance costs for software like Ansys and Matlab are insane and can run into the tens of thousands a year. The situation with Ansys has gotten so bad many research groups are moving to OpenFOAM and Python and I doubt they'll be back once they figure out how much more powerful their new tools are.

We're seeing something similar with Adobe. Their Creative Cloud suite is now subscription based and ends up costing much more than buying the older software did for a perpetual licence (but a drop in the ocean compared to the above). Everyone seems to hate it. There aren't even enough new features to warrant updating from your old CS6 license other than the required 64-bit support (several components of their management software still aren't even 64 bit).

The only good thing is that their team licence is pretty permissive if you're not a heavy user, we were able to share three license across a larger team, the sales guy even suggested it.

Now we're seeing developers like Serif come out with apps like Affinity Photo and Designer to challenge Photoshop and Illustrator with exceptionally polished desktop and iPad apps with a once off purchase per OS. The apps are performant and can do 99% of what Adobe can. With a full version of Photoshop coming to iPad it'll be interesting how users respond. Adobe don't have a great track record on iOS not that their desktop backend is much better. In fact I'd say that the standard set by Photoshop and Illustrator in terms of primary features and UX over the years has become relatively easy to replicate on modern devices, even with web apps, that Adobe have painted themselves into a technical debt corner with their awful backend (compare raw performance of Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X).

Then there's the video streaming fragmentation. Now I need Netflix, Amazon and HBO subs to watch the shows I want to see, if they're even available in my country and I also need to pay for a VPN. There's no way I can afford that so if I'm selfish I'll just torrent the ones not on my preferred platform. Unless these services introduce some form of syndication where popular shows appear on competitors platforms after a period of exclusivity then they'll burn what ground they have taken from piracy.

Adobe software was expensive before they introduced subscriptions. There were always cheaper alternatives available but Adobe had lock-in through their file formats and product familiarity.

In many ways I can see the products are better because of subscriptions. It takes away the need to pile on new features in order to justify selling upgrades. Instead they can focus on retaining existing users by fixing bugs and annoyances and adding real improvements.

I agree there's a limit, but why 2019 specifically? How do we know it hasn't plateaued already, or that it won't only do so in 2025? Is there any data on it?

I believe it has something to do with the layoffs at Gannett, HuffPost and BuzzFeed, although they don't get mentioned in that article.

Further reference: https://twitter.com/JeremyLittau/status/1088503510184927233

I think the solution from a consumer perspective is per article 1-click micro-transactions.

It needs to be easy, seamless and not require a new account for each site.

"Click to pay 10¢ with NewsBuyer to read this article". Boom done.

This would be ok if the articles were worth a 10c read, but I feel like with the majority of articles being of low quality, paying for an article would be a gamble that rarely pays off and I'd "just stop trying".

Companies could use the popular below the fold design to unlock the article for 10c. This way you can read the first paragraph or two to decide if it's worth it.

There are transaction fees for most credit card purchases, and some of those fees have mandatory minimums (i.e. 2% plus 10 cents per transaction).

This effectively prevents immediate charging, so you end up needing to provide one of two services: either a tab-based model where you effectively loan your consumer content and trust that they will pay you, or a top-up model where they have to pay into an account in advance and they can eat away at that balance slowly.

The tab-based model obviously fails because you can't stop people from registering new accounts over and over and never paying you.

The top-up balance model is the most likely scenario to work, but will require people paying a "large" amount of like $10 per transaction. Skype uses this model.

So then you have your problem with the "new account for each site". Well, I guess there's some sort of linking you could do, where a payment provider company like Square would enter into an agreement with each content provider to take 10% per transaction or something. Then you would just use single-sign on from your payment provider to login to these content provider sites.

Exactly what I had thought.

Valve has basically done this for video games, except it's centralised.

So this takes the "login with Facebook" idea to "purchase with [X]".

My previous comment on the subject: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15592192 - "the problem with micropayments is microfraud"

But eventually the wheat will separate from the chafe. If example.com is always clickbait / shit, eventually people will stop going there.

NYC locals don't shop the tourist shops, because they've learned not to.

Only if i get 20min to get a clickbait refund.

Always viable. Google allows it for app purchases.

Of course if the cost is low enough and you realize your money has been wasted, you simply never purchase from that author again, and if enough other users follow suit, they'll go out if business.

I agree, but I also agreed ten years ago...

But 10 years ago the subscription services weren't feeling as much pressure to fix this issue.

And since then we've had Patreon come into vogue, which almost all of the YouTube channels I encounter are using now. It gives support to "pay for content you enjoy". Only problem I see with it is that you have to leave the consumption platform to make the transaction happen.

I like this idea, but how does this work for articles that are crap? I often click links to things only to find they're click-bait, or just lacking in any real content, or just plain crap.

Then there is the issue of the likes of tech-crunch who are abusing the GDPR rules and making you individually toggle ~250 check boxes to opt out of all the things that their global "off" button doesn't uncheck, those sites I choose to leave immediately and not visit again.

Perhaps you could pay after a certain amount of time? But then there are many ways around paying for that. Perhaps they could reveal the article to you line-by-line and you have a time-restriction there?

Or do we just suck it up, and pay for things regardless? My principles don't allow me to pay even a penny for something that is blatant and utter rubbish designed with no purpose other than to make / noise.

If you accidentally pay for trash, you're not going to pay for it in the future, right? You'll be wary of that author / publication.

If enough people stop paying that author, they go out of business.

It shifts the onus to the content producer to make content people want to pay for, and not making the consumer decided between subscribing to a platform which is 50/50 good/bad.

Oh yes, certainly. I wonder though, how this works for the likes of Medium, where where is often good content, but by completely unrelated people, should it be up to me to know who I should and shouldn't pay to read?

I see it would certainly make sites like this more useful, those that curate content based on public opinion.

I've also become completely overwhelmed by the amount of "set and forget" auto-recurring subscriptions that exist now, and it's simply led to me opting out of almost all of them. It's not even the monetary amounts, which tend to be fairly small, but more the cognitive load of keeping track of payment dates, amounts, and (especially) cancellation terms. I just can't be bothered to deal with it all, so I don't. If I was to put a number on it, I'd say five monthly subscriptions is as many as I'd be prepared to have at any one time. That would have to cover everything—news, entertainment, charitable donations, and so on.

For video streaming, for instance, I subscribe to Netflix only. If something isn't on Netflix, I just won't see it, and I can live with that. I already have access to more than I can watch anyway. Should I find something better, I'll stop my Netflix subscription before switching to the new thing.

If the service is harder to cancel than it is to subscribe, I'll pass irrespective of how good it looks (no, I'm not prepared to call you on the phone to cancel when subscribing took three clicks). I won't subscribe to software at all. Let me buy it outright. If it's a monthly subscription or nothing, I'll pick nothing.

Perhaps I'm showing my age by saying this, but I'd be more interested in subscribing to your magazine or service if you send me an annual invoice, which I'll happily pay in one explicitly non-recurring payment, like a bank transfer. Then after a year or whatever the subscription period is, I'll make a decision about whether it's still worth it to me. If I'm considering actually subscribing to something, it won't be on a whim, and I'll already know whether or not I like it enough to pay, so signing up for an extended period is fine. Same with charities. Let me send you money once a year, and don't pressure me into signing up to a monthly payment plan, and I'll be much more prepared to do so.

> It's not even the monetary amounts, which tend to be fairly small, but more the cognitive load of keeping track of payment dates, amounts, and (especially) cancellation terms. I just can't be bothered to deal with it all, so I don't. If I was to put a number on it, I'd say five monthly subscriptions is as many as I'd be prepared to have at any one time. That would have to cover everything—news, entertainment, charitable donations, and so on.

I know what you mean. I create a calendar event every single time I subscribe to something that is recurring so that I can cancel if I want to, a few days from the end of the subscription.

I have online/digital subscriptions for the New York Times ($48/year) the Washington Post ($19/year) and The Guardian (€60/year). Totally worth it for me.

Do you feel your money was well spent on the guardian's fabrication about Manafort visiting Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy?

Or the NYT posting opeds full of unchecked lies? Journalists and editors will make mistakes. The question is not about that one story, it’s about the sum of what it delivers IMHO. And in that regard The Guardian still wins my support.

Just ribbing you btw.

Serious question, would you prefer being able to support quality reporters / reporting at these publications and not pay for the lies and fabrications? If you could do that (versus having to pay an all encompassing subscription).

No. I wouldn't want to directly support certain journalists. It creates the real problem of "writing to please your audience" and moving the focus from reporting to serving the patrons. The best journalists are not necessarily nice people, in my experience. They should focus on the story, not waste time on optimising their social reputation. They should be protected by their editors and the institution they work for from exactly this kind of influence. IMHO.

Also it is hard to go undercover for an important story when you have to make sure you grow your audience at the same time.

Fair. But you and I would pay for "not nice, but brutally honest journalism". I bet a lot of other would too. Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" is historical proof of that.

There's no reason a the authors couldn't write under pseudonyms, or publish as a collective. You still buy the articles one by one as you see fit.

Very difficult to maintain a pseudonym and publish articles with quotes from named sources in, avoiding the Manafort fiasco.

The Economist manages the collective byline thing fairly well, but it's almost unique.

The dynamic explained here isn’t some cliff we are collectively approaching as the article seems to say. Instead, it’s been a drag on people’s willingness to sign up for subscription services and likelihood to churn off of them all along.

Subscriptions will see declines across platforms because of fatigue and people realizing that they’re not really using the subscriptions or deriving adequate value from those.

I only bother about subscriptions if it’s for visual media (selectively) or for online backups. Everything else is what I use only occasionally, and don’t see the value in getting stuck paying for those. As the article hints at, services that aren’t niche or highly focused on one topic (it closely related set of topics) or voice will not find many takers.

For software, I like having a free trial and then paying once and deciding when I want to upgrade, at what price/discount, etc. I believe it’s up to the developer to provide adequate value to tempt people to upgrade, and then leave it to them to decide. Most app subscriptions make sense for those who create a lot more monetary value with the use of the apps. That’s a small percentage of the population.

Subscriptions to news sites don’t make much sense when what I read all the time is highly selective and through news aggregation sites (not Facebook!) or applications (like an RSS reader).

I personally can’t wait for a bigger and wider backlash against subscriptions, since every producer or developer seems intent on pushing that as the only option to users.

Current news syndication model is outdated and will change in next 10-20 years.

Current model:

Newspapers & media platforms use syndication. They get most of their news syndicated from others journals and media. The editor chooses what to print or publish.

Future model:

Newspapers & media platforms use syndication. They get most of their news syndicated from others journals and media. It's the reader who decides what he reads from the syndicated news.

In the future you have an account in your favorite content news syndication service/newspaper/platform and pay flat monthly subscription fee by default. You can surf in the internet and read anything you want. Every month the service you subscribed distributes payments from the syndicated media according to what you read. There are different levels of payments. Some content is more expensive than other. You can also sponsor, tip etc. Some pay more because they consume more expensive content or more content.

ps. The same model will work for movies, games etc. You can watch HBO movies from Netflix and vice versa.

Wow, this problem is exactly what my startup is trying to solve. (Not sure if I'm allowed link to it here.)

A huge issue here is that there's no way to pay tiny amounts for one-off content. Like, it's impossible to charge 10¢ to your credit card.

So publishers resort to ads or subscriptions or obnoxious bundling schemes to get over the fee thresholds for credit cards.

This is a good thread to read that might give some more backstory: https://twitter.com/JeremyLittau/status/1088503510184927233

Thank you so much for bringing this into perspective. Especially the part where only 10-15% of revenue came from subscriptions. That really puts things into perspective in terms of free news articles!

It seems ridiculous to subscribe to, say, ten publications since you cannot realistically keep up with them all. However for me things changed when I started looking at this as a form of charity.

I subscribe to a number of publications that I only read every now and then, but that I find important or sympathetic. A free and healthy press that stimulates debate is worth my money even if I am not part of the core audience. This is money that I would otherwise spend on other laudable things like disaster relief or coral reefs, i.e. altruistic money without any immediate personal ROI.

What seems like an obvious solution is to decentralize the ad market again. Especially news papers should be able to sell ads to buisenesses directly, as they have in the past.

changing the ad market will not fix the problem, the problem is the papers existed quite well when they had a captive audience.

that is no longer true so many publications are finding that they only were prosperous not because of their content but because they were the only game in town.

What we need is a meta subscription service where you pay for a certain amount of articles available from dozens of participating magazines and news outlets. If you consume too many articles you need to pay a bit more.

The content creators are missing out by refusing to license their content to a services like this.

I almost expected a little popup to appear mid-article that said "Whoa, slow down there fella. You've read four free articles this month. All you need to do to get subscribed is give us your email and payment info."

Something like coil.com might be a viable alternative. At the moment I don't subscribe to news sites because of this issue. If I could pay upfront and then split it by usage I would definitely go for it

Subscription implies advantages for unbundling - you get more from a Patreon linked to a preferred author, than from the NYT.

> How many things are you subscribed to?


Am I the only one?

I wish tv and news was pay as you go. Not $4.99 an episode or $1.00 / article but $.25 / episode and $.10 / article. Bitcoin is a perfect medium for this but whenever people try to do this they price it irrationally.

This post is light on new information. Why would I trust a sports writer to predict an imminent and dramatic behaviour change? I'm not trying to be shitty to sports writers, but there's nothing to suggest that this guy has done any research or has any background in consumer spending behaviour.

That all said, I think that it's much more interesting than "consumers have a finite spending limit". The first mistake is in believing that there's such a thing as "consumers". In reality, you have a population and an infinite number of slices within it. Some of those slices will be able to afford a huge number of services while others can afford none.

With the obvious stated, the next filter gets more interesting: at what point does an option become more convenient than alternatives? For example, people had no choice but to buy CDs until MP3s came along. Massive libraries of MP3s were common until streaming services offered a legal, frictionless option for a flat monthly fee. For a huge number of people, Spotify wins. And while you can keep clearing cookies, at some point you want to read Forbes, WP, NYT, etc stories enough that you decide paying is easier than circumventing paywalls, based on how much you value your time.

Finally, there's also a long list of other dimensions that influence subscriptions today: I'm a Canadian with a NYT subscription because I hate paywalls but mostly because I genuinely want to vote with my dollars to support quality news. This isn't so different from backing a Kickstarter project or a Patreon.

The blend of these services and likely other ones that don't exist yet give the population the opportunity to truly personalize their consumption if they wish to take it.

What I wish is that there was a consolidated location where I could manage all of my subscriptions to everything, period. Right now, every subscription is managed in a silo. This sucks. A more generalized payment mechanism would allow me to subscribe to the NYT, pay a small fee to unblock a single article and share it with my friends or even pay to sponsor a single writer... all from the same interface.

A guy can dream.

That's because it's not intended as a post that aims to explain new things so much as predict their impact in the coming year. Harvard's Neiman Lab does an annual list of predictions. This is just one of the predictions.

I expected this to be about box subscriptions.

tl;dr "people have a lot of subscriptions so they might start unsubscribing"

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