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Won’t Subscribe (tbray.org)
348 points by headalgorithm 22 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 355 comments



As a long-time publisher, there is only one primary metric that matters to me: loyal readers. I don't publish for the occasional visitor. I publish for the loyal readers that I have worked hard to cultivate, engage, and enrichen. The primary work is one of building a relationship with a loyal readership, based on consistency and quality.

Our websites, as they're designed, are probably a little annoying to people who are not our loyal readership. That's by design; you're either part of our core audience, or we're filtering for whether you could be part of our core audience. Everyone else is secondary to the success of the business, as well as secondary to our core job, which is to serve our loyal readers, and, again, NOT our occasional readers, and certainly not the people who are likely to visit us just once and then never again.

The article suggests adding an additonal – and complex – revenue source: selling articles individually. This idea, of course, is not feasible, because it is such a huge distraction from the core business, and is potentially a distraction that has the potential to cause real harm to the core business. Successful publishing is extremely difficult. To actually be sustainable, you really can't let yourself be distracted from what matters.


Here's the thing: with this model, it's (somewhat) easy to keep loyal readers, but it's maybe hard to get new ones.

I think this is the part that you're not disclosing here - how do you get new readers? A lot of times, a business like yours relies on the referrals from the loyal customers in order to expand. If you make it impossible for the "occasional reader" to read you, then by extension you make it extremely difficult for your loyal customers to refer you. Based on your "little annoying" comment, I'm guessing you don't do that. So this means occasional visitors are free to read your content, it's just annoying to do so - and you're relying on that annoyance to convert them to paid customers (should they find themselves coming back again & again).

I mean, it's a valid tactic. BUT - I don't think it's the only one. I do think "subscription fatigue" is a real thing - people will not be subscribed to countless services. As the competition for the subscription money sharpens, at least some publishers may find themselves pushed out of this model. I think that's all that Tim Bray was saying - and, I think he's right. There's unexplored potential out there, that you ignore at your own risk.


One could allocate each loyal subscriber a limited number of trial passes to share with their friends. The passes would allow them to access one or a few articles for a limited time.


Similarly, LWN.net allows subscribers to share links to individual articles with non-subscribers. (I don't know if LWN.net has a limit, but non-subscriber links to articles are often submitted here on HN.)


I love the LWN model, in addition to this it lets you read the subscription-only articles after a week, and to also (to an extent) choose what you feel you can pay


As a publisher maybe it is time to rethink your primary metric. As a long-time reader, i'm not interesting in being a loyal reader, i'm interested in reading the best news.

I don't limit myself to the music of one band, so i really appreciate spotify, and i don't limit myself to the news of one publisher.


This. Many readers enjoy gaining multiple perspectives on the same news story from which to draw their own conclusions. This behaviour is scarcely catered for today.


Really? Isn't that only a small number of people? Most have their trusted news source and come by others only when printed out at Facebook (while their most read only headline and comments and don't click the link)

Going back to pre Internet: Even then most people got one newspaper and be done. (I myself grew up with in a household with a daily newspaper and two weekly, in addition to subscriptions to physics and computing magazines, but that was an exception, in most of my friend's places there was at most one) And TV channels there was one news program one watched (and still only few people switch between news channels)


Consumption of media has completely changed for me. Most of what i read is through links from others: Hackernews, Flipboard, or facebook, Google news.

I think most people get very shallow news information from some big names (nu.nl) that are basically reprints from AP news items. Short discription what happened, no background, nor deep diving. Most websites have the same reprinted stories, nothing worth paying for.

For background stories, that require real journalism, you can't rely on just one source. You want the best articles from all sources. Most sources have only a few good deep stories a month.

But things have really changed compared to pre-internet: it is much easier to share links to specific news items, and all these links are actually within reach, just click on the link and open it.


> Most of what i read is through links from others: Hackernews, Flipboard, or facebook, Google news.

This is the sea-change that has happened. Newspapers used to be hugely profitable, because they owned and controlled the primary source of news for most people. Their platform – direct distribution directly to people's homes – was immensely powerful for many decades. That platform was disrupted by the internet. Newspapers are no longer the primary platform most people use for media consumption. Those platforms are now, as you say, places like HN, Facebook, Flipboard, Google, etc.


The income they had was through ads. Those revenues now go to Facebook and Google. The retail price covered maybe printing and distribution, but not the content creation.

If you go to a facebook stream: how.many different news sites do you really get? - It's few. Most your "friends" have their go-to media they share and random outliers. It feels broad, but I doubt it's broad for the typical user.


Many readers enjoy multiple perspectives but I would argue that it’s not the majority of readers at all. Newspaper subscriptions aren’t exactly a new idea, after all: people were very happy receiving one news source daily. And it seems like a lot of people still are.

I don’t think this is a good thing. We’d all benefit from seeing multiple perspectives on the news. But to solve this problem you’re going to have to persuade companies that have no interest in sharing their audience and convince an audience that, by and large, doesn’t have a big interest in reading multiple sources of news. It wouldn’t be easy.


Google News app offers multiple perspectives around news events under a button. Fox, WSJ, CNN and Bloomberg coverage on the last Trump rally.


> I don't limit myself to the music of one band, so i really appreciate spotify

this is a bizarre analogy

no one had to limit themselves to listening to only one band before Spotify


No one had to limit themselves to one news source before either, but that's what publishers are trying to do now.


No... but I assume even in the pre-digital days most people only ever had one, at most two, newspaper subscriptions. And the newspaper (er, news website) publishers are still living in that world.


But you also had the option to go out and buy the day's newspaper yourself. Maybe I don't want a subscription, but you can't buy a "day pass" online for like $2 either. Sure that's about half a weekly subscription to the NYTimes, but I don't have to commit (and have to remember to cancel) a subscription.


There is literally no publisher that would be able or trying to prevent you from reading other publishers. What they want is for you to come back to them, but you can read others too.


Publishers know you have a limited budget you’re willing to spend on news articles. If you spend it all with through the purchase of a bundle, you’re less likely to spend it on other publishers.


Record companies and artist were initially also fighting single track purchasing, trying to keep customers to buy albums, fearing the loss of revenue if customers could buy only what they liked, without all the low value fillers.

And they were right to fear it, as spotify revenue streams hardly resemble the revenue streams they had from selling albums.

Selling through spotify is now seen as marketing, bands have to make their money from concerts.

Newspapers and magazines are correct to fear selling per article, it will significantly reduce their revenue, with no real revenue model to make up for it. Newspaper concerts?


Back in the days of buying albums, comparable to the newsstand days, was certainly a lot more expensive to listen to multiple albums. There was the radio, but you weren't in control of that. You could make mix tapes, in the 90s. But you might have more of a tendency to prefer sticking to one band since you couldn't preview their albums before buying, other than getting lucky hearing a tune in the radio.

Seems like a good analogy to me.


And then there were small record stores like HEAR (bay area?) or Wall of Sound (Seattle) where you could listen to as much of as many albums (CDs) as you wanted to before buying.


Minor clarification: mix tapes were not condoned by the recording industry, they were actively opposed.


> I don't limit myself to the music of one band, so i really appreciate spotify

This is perhaps a better analogy than you realize, but not for the reason you realize.

Yes, Spotify is great for music consumers, but it is profoundly destroying the well-being of music producers. Of course, the big-money days of the 90s are never coming back, but I hope most people would agree that talented musicians should be able to earn a living wage from their art so that they can focus most of their time on it. That's a net benefit to society.

But Spotify returns so little money to the artists you conveniently stream that music is inexorably turning into a hobby for all but a tiny fraction of pop stars.

Unless you want 99% of journalists to be hobbyists doing it in their free time when they aren't serving people coffee at the nearby Starbucks, then Spotify's isn't the business model to advocate.


Why re-think what is already working? Because it will give us the ability to reach new customers?

That, unfortunately, doesn't add up. Many low-value customers is not what we need.

We need (and have) predictable revenue from stable base of customers we know and trust. (And who trust us.)

We need (and have) reliable sources for new long-term customers.

We don't need lots of (random) people paying us $1 or $2 every couple of months. Frankly, that sounds like an awful business to be in.


> We need (and have) reliable sources for new long-term customers.

You may need to elaborate on this. Where are your new long term customers coming from?


I'm interested in reading thoughtful, truthful pieces, and I'll pay for it, and I'll keep coming back (loyal). I'm absolutely not interested in trying to verify the authenticity / authority of unfamiliar publications every day / week.

While I don't limit myself to just one band, I also prefer a real DJ to spotify, for so many reasons. I'm probably just getting old though.

Basically, I'll pay for expertise in these areas.


How do you identify "the best news" without exorbitantly wasting time filtering through rubbish?

By trusting in a publisher. In which case, you then become a loyal reader, just like you become a fan of a band. Of course, this is not an exclusive relationship.


No, a publisher will always tell they have the best news, but that is not possible as they can only employ a limited number of journalists. And usually they have a certain way of looking at the world and filtering their stories and reporting to this way of looking at the world.

If you want to best news, you need to look across different sources, and get recommendations from different sides, e.g. something like but not limited to hackernews.


If it were printed newspaper I could go and get one for a few bucks. Digital has nothing to offer of that kind. As the other poster wrote, how else would you expand your readership?


> As the other poster wrote, how else would you expand your readership?

By creating a valuable product, finding potential costumers, and offering the product for sale. Why would it be different than any other business?

It would be ridiculous to expect every SaaS business to offer their services for "a few bucks", and yet, for some reason, people think it is egregious that publishers don't do this. Bizarre. Though, I do have the say the newspaper industry caused this; for years, when the internet was still new, most newspapers gave away their best content. That was a huge mistake; it lead people to significantly devalue news.


How do you expect people to go from "not customer" to "loyal customer" without going to through the intermediate step of "occasional reader"?

> By creating a valuable product, finding potential costumers

> Our websites, as they're designed, are probably a little annoying to people who are not our loyal readership. That's by design;

> again, NOT our occasional readers

As I read it, you are expecting a occasional visitor to stick with your bad-UX site and stick with it despite that, until they at some point came to the site so often that they have learned to endure the bad UX?


I expect via the well-known method of signing up for a trial subscription.


Articles are more of a product that is sold, and less of a service. There is no close interaction required like in a real service business. A service customer has to interact with the service provider and therefore a longer-term ongoing relationship is beneficial to both.

But even then, a low-individuality service can be one-off and is expected to be. Think e.g. of a car wash. Or renting VMs in the cloud.

So I don't think newspapers, selling their totally unindividualized, standardized and prepackaged good (can't even pick just the sports section) is anything like a "service" or comparable to most SaaS. However, they continue behaving like it saleswise, alienating their readership


Also, everyone in here is (oddly?) discounting the fact that making it easy to consume individual articles at some presumably-low price would inevitably reduce the number of monthly subscribers. Some subs would save money; some subs would think they would save money.


There are a few apps (eg The economist if I recall correctly) which allow you to buy specific editions without a full subscription if you want to.


Hmm, what if they offered a one-week or one-month access pass that didn't auto-renew. Would you be interested in something like that?


Interesting thought. I think one week pass is similar to buying 1 newspapers that is published weekly. If prices align, it’s a reasonable solution. But it’s very important that it either does not auto-renew or it’s very easy to cancel it.


Yes, that was the idea, to have an extra option—the auto-renewing subscription and then the one-off, not auto-renewing option. I'm starting to think about whether to do this for my business as well. Maybe give a % discount for the auto-renew option.

I also think what could really change the newspaper industry is making it more feasible to do smaller transactions. Not the "buy one article each" transaction, but reducing the transaction cost for small $ transactions. Right now, to charge $1, Stripe charges $0.30 + 2.9%, or 33%. I know PayPal has a micro-transaction rate but not everyone wants to use PayPal.

I would love to subscribe to a newspaper for $1-4/month, not $10-20/month. I'd probably spend more than $20/month overall, just can't justify paying $20/month for just one paper. But seems transactions costs may make it hard to lower the price to $1-4.


That would be really annoying for loyal readers.

Imagine this loop: Purchase 2 week pass, read bunch of articles, some time passes, wants to read new article, oh well my pass expired..


It doesn't have to be a XOR.

I know of at least one minor newspaper that sells that kind of pass (1-month non-renewing sub) as well as other subscriptions: https://ilmanifesto.it/tariffe/

It's Italian but the table is easy enough to decipher. "Mese" is a month. "Digitale" is digital (duh). "Coupon" is a scheme where they send you vouchers to redeem the newspaper in shops, and is extremely popular among their readership. "Postale" is the classic system through the post (which can be slow in Italy, hence the voucher scheme). "Sostenitore" is basically a supporter donation.

Sadly they still make less than 10% of their revenue from digital, despite a first-class website and iOS app and Android app. Their revenue from paper is fairly solid and they've now streamlined enough that they could probably survive on that, but they still do yearly donation drives.


Thanks for the link! Would you mind recommending any radio stations with good online presence? I haven’t been lucky searching online


In Italian, for news, or both?

I'm not a big listener, but when I want a shot of Italian music I do "Hey Google, Radio Italia Anni 60" - despite the name, they actually play anything Italian from any age, including the last couple of years, and they have their own app so no TuneIn shenanigans for us expats. I used to listen to Lattemiele but it's gone downhill some time ago, too much talk for my taste now.

I don't really listen to Italian radio for news, just follow a few podcasts like this: https://www.spreaker.com/show/qui-un-tempo


Word of mouth; the best advertising there is.


The problem is that all loyal readers start as nonsubscribers stopping by for the first time. When I encounter a site that is intentionally poorly designed and annoying, I don’t even consider subscribing.

First impressions matter. If I walked into a store and the salespeople were grubby and obnoxious, I wouldn’t think “hmm, maybe they’ll be less grubby and obnoxious if I buy something.” I’d just leave.

You no doubt have numbers that you think justify your decisions here. To that, I would say: We shall see. Users—and browser manufacturers—are getting a lot better at stripping away annoyances. I browse most sites with JavaScript off or read them in reader mode, and I import articles directly into an offline reader app; more and more frequently, I never even visit the site whose content I’m reading. I do this because I’m tired of having annoyances thrown in my face.

Makes me wonder if a less hostile attitude towards nonsubscribers might encourage people to stay on your site a little longer, and ultimately subscribe.


Subscribing means taking a risk: will future content from this publication be worth the price? In the case of a newspaper, the answer is often "definitely not" even in the absence of signs of nonsubscriber aversion.

For example, I sometimes stumble upon local newspapers covering some event of interest (e.g. details of police violence in USA cities I've never heard about, or schedules of concerts etc. wherever I'm on vacation for a few days). Regardless of high quality and low prices, I might only be interested in subscribing to such publications if I expected lots of interesting future news from that place, which is of course absurd; but I could be willing to pay (not too much) for the single article that I know interests me.

When there is a chance of subscription, the publication should prioritize convincing readers that content is relevant and high quality, by letting people access it. Instead, there are pearls of marketing like a monthly limit to free articles (e.g. the Washington Post), a surgical strike against the most interested potential subscribers.


This idea, of course, is not feasible, because it is such a huge distraction from the core business, and is potentially a distraction that has the potential to cause real harm to the core business.

You say this as if it were objectively true, but it rings exceptionally hollow to me. This seems like a minor inconvenience at best, and something which could easily provided by a third-party service with no upfront cost beyond integration.


> This idea, of course, is not feasible, because it is such a huge distraction from the core business, and is potentially a distraction that has the potential to cause real harm to the core business.

If potential customers think you're in a different core business than you think you are, what makes you sure you're right, and what would make you re-evaluate?


> ...there is only one primary metric that matters to me: loyal readers. I don't publish for the occasional visitor.

Okay, good luck with that. I don't know how somebody becomes a “loyal reader” if they can't even read your website to begin with. Especially with how many of these subscription rags play outrageous frame games and use facts to tell lies and half truths, it's insulting enough without half the article disappearing when you scroll, or a modal prompt.

I usually just don't open links to sites that I know work like this.


There is an easy solution for this problem.

Everyone with the link can access the article.

Everyone who subscribes can access the links for the articles and share them.


It's an interesting idea, but seems easily gamed. One person subscribes, and posts all the links to other link sites (like Reddit, HackerNews). Maybe there's a /r/xNewspaper that anyone can go to that posts links to every article from that newspaper.


You need to build the loss into the model (or not even see it as loss). Many streaming services don't seem to mind when you share your username and password with another household. It doesn't happen often enough for them to care.

How much money you would make if everyone did the right thing is a number that is not as real as the actual amount of money you make. Seeing things that way seems important.


How do acquire new, loyal subscribers if your site is “a little annoying to people who are not [your] loyal subscribers?”


like lwn.net? A local digital, ad free and independent magazine (republik.ch) has the same model.

Everyone with a link can access an article.

Everyone with a subscription has access to the links for the articles and can share them.


I think LWN is more like PBS/NPR/wikipedia/etc in that the content is generally free (although a little less so that the examples). It has "supporters" who pay too keep them running because they value the unique perspective in a niche.


Ever heard of sales and marketing?


Sales and marketing don’t get me past that annoyance that sends me to a competitor.


As long as the competitors are no better, there is little risk.


Look, if you make it difficult for me then I’m either going to just not bother or I’m going to plug your article url into one of the many websites that will give me the content for free, and I won’t feel bad about doing it.

If you gave me an option to pay even say $20 for 10 articles, like a punchcard, then at least you’d be getting that money from me.


I have a few individuals that I pay particular attention to, but not necessarily a publication. For a time, The Information was a publication I thought of subscribing to. However, they do a lot more than just publishing. They built a community, and have a number of non-publication, community interactions — member-only Slack, for example.

You cannot really have loyalty unless you have a community. Loyalty results from the personal relationship individuals make to each other within the context of a community. “Loyalty”, in the context of a subscription is still largely framed as a transactional exchange of value in the guise of a community. In that frame, without real, personal relationships, the only thing keeping someone there is value and cost-of-cancelling (laziness, inertia).

Perhaps this is why substack is gaining more traction. Maybe this is why podcasts had become very popular. Maybe this is also why traditional publishing models are dying.


There is easy solution for this: syndication/bundling.

1) You subscribe only NYT for $221.00/year

2) You subscribe NYT with digital syndication bundle for $521 and you get unlimited access to NYT and all other papers, including all local papers. The extra $300 is divided between papers according to the articles this subscriber reads from other sources.


It is amazing to me that this concept, syndication of subscribers, is completely unexplored at this late date and after such carnage in the industry.

There have been dozens or hundreds of content syndication efforts, all failures, but no one is doing the obvious thing for customer experience and syndicating their subscription.

Can anyone in the business (which I used to be in back in the early 2000's) explain this?


At least for newspapers this model can’t work.

When considered as a civic function to ensure unbiased access to facts and emerging critical stories, your approach is completely at odds with consumers, even loyal customers.

The reason is that the market signals emitted by loyal readers don’t have any relationship to objective reality. Loyal readers might disbelieve evolution and only respond to articles that favor creationism. Loyal readers might not cancel their subscription when you omit fair coverage of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, or make deals with the CIA to delay publishing controversial materials.

Thus optimizing for loyal readers is fundamentally antithetical to the basic civic duty premise. At best, if you did this, you would be an entertainment publication, not a fact reporter. That’s totally OK, but it’s important to point out it won’t work, in principle, for news publications.


Doesn’t the existence of “loyal readers” imply that the publication approach is not “at odds with consumers”? If we can’t trust consumers to emit the correct market signals then we should not rely on them to voluntarily fund important civic functions.


Not really. It doesn't imply much of anything as stated.

You could still have loyal customers even if your model is generally anti-consumer.

Without knowing any details about the business, it's impossible to determine if he's a successful publisher, or if the publications are generally low overhead so they can stay afloat with a relatively small set of customers, etc.


Being entirely dependent on subscribers is still better than depending only on advertisers. There are quite a large number of people who actually want their newspaper to apply sound journalism whatever it takes. Advertisers just want attention. Of course, a mix of both is probably the best.


>Being entirely dependent on subscribers is still better than depending only on advertisers.

Except most newspapers rely on a hybrid model.

And what's more important to me is not being tracked around the 'net than paying for content/subscriptions. As such, I take steps to minimize (with mitigated success) the tracking that any website, regardless of content, is able to perform on me.

And that's the biggest issue here. FB and Google are huge and profitable because of their incessant tracking. Advertisers (like me, the author of the blog post and many others) want their money to be well spent.

It's not that the business model for most newspapers and other periodicals have really changed. Their model was always to maintain a loyal base of readers (whether that be via physical print circulation, subscriptions, and these days clicks/visitors on the site) to be used as a draw for advertisers to believe their money is well spent with them and not their competitors.

Google and FB have hijacked that model. They are a middle man that sucks advertising revenue that used to go the publishers of actual professional content.

Just as Apple/Google take 30% off the top for the "privilege" of being allowed to sell an app to their captive audience.

Aggregation of professional content does provide some value. But using that aggregation to pull revenue away from the publishers has consequences.

Those consequences are several:

1. Reducing the revenue for publishers of professional content limits the ability of those publishers to pay for and publish more and better professional content;

2. (1) often forces consolidation of these publishers, limiting both the number of publishers, and likely the range of viewpoints presented (think Sinclair Broadcasting) to the consumers of such content;

3. It also forces these publishers to compete for ad sales with the middlemen who use the products from these publishers of professional content. The publishers still need to create such content, as that's their business. The middlemen, on the other hand, use that same content to drive ad sales that otherwise would have gone to the publishers;

3. Subscriptions allow "loyal" customers to directly compensate the publishers of such professional content without contributing to the parasitical middlemen;

4. As has been true for centuries, advertising is the revenue source that has allowed publishers to continue publishing professional content, with physical newspaper sales/circulation and subscriptions being the measure of value to advertisers;

5. Those measures (now including clicks and measures of "engagement") are being exploited and distorted by the middlemen to suck that value away from publishers without providing any real value. High-Frequency Trading[0] is an example from the financial markets which matches this behavior: Get in between sellers and buyers and arbitrage your position to profit from that position. No value is added to the market, but profit is extracted nonetheless.

All that said, the publishers of professional content use many different mechanisms to maintain that all-important ad revenue, often by increasing the number of ads and amount of invasive tracking of visitors. To see what I'm talking about, stick the URL of one of these sites into Blacklight[1] (discussed here last week[2]) and see just how much tracking/marketing data is included on their sites. Here's an example. This is the result from a scan of the Wall Street Journal[3].

The parasitical middlemen are driving this race to the bottom that threatens the long-term viability of paid, professional journalism. That doesn't seem to bother them, as they're raking in money hand over fist. But we are the ones who will continue to lose out, both in terms of journalistic diversity and volume.

Don't let the parasites suck the value out of newspaper/periodical publishing, leaving a dessicated husk that can't provide us with the information we need to support and maintain a vibrant, free society.

[0] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/high-frequency-trading....

[1] https://themarkup.org/blacklight

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24553514

[3] https://themarkup.org/blacklight?url=wsj.com


I've worked inside of these publication businesses, heard these conversations, listened to the plans. There is no shock to me that for the most part, they're struggling to make ends meet.

In my opinion, any business that is designed to ostracize future customers will struggle in one way or another. I don't meant this to say it cannot work, but as someone that would like to read more, but also suffers from subscription fatigue...nothing annoys me more than when i see something i'd like to enjoy, but am told no because i'm not in the club. If i cannot see why i should join the club, why should i join the club?


But how do you get new loyal readers, if not by repeatedly proving your value to new occasional readers?


Something the New York Times have talked about recently is how they repositioned their subscription offers in the opposite direction to Tim's suggestion recently to great success.

The whole idea is to offer long trials at reduced prices, and I presume push this offer harder and harder to users that keep visiting regularly enough to look like potential subscribers.

Once a user hits subscribe, a bunch of other systems kick in to get that users, over the next 12mos or whatever lengthy period the reduction is for, to build enough habit with the product that by the time the renewal comes around it has become essential.

No other digital media company has had as much success in the last five years as the New York Times.


The NYT and Guardian have me in that first stage now, but the chance that I'll upgrade to something more expensive is again, like Tim writes, ultra-close to zero (the Guardian is pay-what-you-want anyway, and it seems to work for them). My main news expense is my local national newspaper, and other papers will always remain secondary news resources for me unless they develop the same kind of coverage of the Netherlands.


This worked on me. I did the trial. I called to cancel (they make it difficult) and they offered to continue the trial rate for 6 months. Now I'm hooked and pay the full rate because it's proven very useful for me.


5 fee articles per month or something similar (storing the IP, for example).


>That's by design; you're either part of our core audience, or we're filtering for whether you could be part of our core audience.

Are you one of those publishers who purposefully create a rentable filter bubble and then rage about how people outside of it don't take you seriously?

There is nothing wrong with having a well-defined audience. There is plenty of wrong with having audience defined purely by their willingness to read your stuff.


> I don't publish for the occasional visitor.

I think that's a perfectly fine approach, and I understand it.

Now, could we please have filters in HN that would allow me to hide all the submissions that link to articles that are not published for the occasional visitor?

I am very serious — I am in a similar situation to Tim Bray, where I subscribe to a number of publications and have no intention of subscribing to anything else. The links pointing to paywalled articles have zero value for me. I understand they have value for subscribers of these publications, but HN is wider in scope.


hi, I would like to say that I think you are approaching this with a very old mindset. I have made survey that had a hundred people in it most of which said they don't subscribe to any paid news and most of them said they would subscribe to a service which provides access to multiple newspapers, and they are willing to pay good money for that .

Would you be available to talk about this and let me know what I am missing. As I have been wanting to do this for a while but sadly all my attempts to contact papers came to a dead end.


This is a good point. It's why I subscribe to some you tube channels but not others. I can find content I am interested in on dozens of channels, but I gravitate to those where I better relate to the channel owner's presentation or personality or problem-solving style.


The huge difference: Youtube subscriptions are free.


Free in money, not free in time. It’s a different kind of micro-payment system.


this got to be a parody?


What's strange is it used to be you would pick up a newspaper at a stand for the day, pay a dollar or whatever, and then have quite a lot of articles to read for that day. But now, it is impossible, the only way is to lock-in. And that may be for the rest of your life if the complaints about the labirynth you may navigate to unsubscribe the nytimes is to be believed. If there was some sort of daily access pass that didn't bother you, require any subscription, perhaps not even ask you to sign up for an email, that would be quite nice.


Ironically enough, buying a physical copy of a newspaper is quite literally "a daily pass", and you get to keep the newspaper in case you want to re-read an article tomorrow, want to dig deeper or share it with somebody else in the house/office.

Here in .it most newspapers cost less than 2.50-3€, and you get a physical good.

I just checked on one of the most relevant newspapers in Italy (IlSole24Ore) and if you want to browse the current issue there's no option for one-time payment, only subscriptions.


I'm kinda surprised that "newsstand" isn't a popular payment strategy. You just have an account with WaPo and when you want to read the paper you pay $1.50 and get the "digital print edition" which has all the articles published today organized into neat little sections.

Newspapers don't have to become Spotify; iTunes is also good.


But even with the newsstand model, you could always subscribe and have it delivered (usually at a discount vs the news stand).

The publishers (and lots of other busineses, think fusion360/photoshop/etc) are just greedy, they can't see the value in thousands of people randomly selecting their product today, and their competitors product tomorrow. They want lock in because its easier.


This makes me wonder how effective a Jetbrains model would be for publishers. Pay once to receive access to the entire archive as of the date when your subscription ends. Or a one-time payment to just get access to the archive as of the payment date.


Many libraries have access to newspaper archives and it's hard to compete with free!


I think a big part of this is that the psychology of cash and online purchases is very different.

When you're walking down the street with some bills in your pocket and you see a newspaper, this is a low-effort, low-stakes transaction. So you're comfortable making an impulse purchase of a newspaper without thinking about it too much. Thirty seconds later, you've got a paper in hand.

But when you have to put your credit card information on a website, the stakes feel higher. There is some level of risk. Do I trust this company to keep my information secure? Will there be repaying payments? Do I really want the newspaper badly enough to type in the 16 digits? All of this requires just enough cognitive effort that it's no longer an impulse purchase so your natural decision aversion kicks in and you just decide to not bother.

Newspapers spent a ton of time experimenting with microtransaction business models when the web first got big and they were never able to make it succeed. They do subscriptions because it's the best thing they've found so far that actually works with human psychology.


These prices are just crazy compared to their old model. Do these papers really think they are providing as much value as Netflix (or more)? Even ignoring journalistic quality...


Why is that so crazy to think of? My New York Times crossword subscription provides me with more value than Netflix right now.


I get a lot more value out of my Economist subscription than my Netflix one.


But the average netflix subscriber? I maybe watch one movie per week or biweekly, and netflix currently is the cheapest way to get that. Previously it was video rental at 10-20% the price, but of course I had to walk around the block and return it after watching at night, otherwise the price would be double. The internet made everything more convenient/quicker but also massively more expensive, due to the monopoly building nature it has.


Uh, I'm almost certain they see themselves as providing more value than Netflix.


The highest-brow 'orange man bad'.


Indeed, who needs an informed population when you can have an entertained one.


News is informative in the best case, but often it’s useless noise, and at worse deceptive and manipulative. Netflix has documentaries and informative shows as well as entertainment (I suspect that watchers of The Patriot Act are generally well informed, for example). There’s more to life than the latest outrage.

Personally I’ve decided that books are the best way become more informed (just like when I was a child!); news and internet sources are largely clickbait and nonsense. You feel like you’re engaged and informed, but you’re not.


Setting aside that you can still buy the newspaper, you can also buy daily editions of the new York times for kindle for 99 cents each.


Here in India the printed newspaper is still the dominant mode. Very few people I know subscribe to digital news.


I wish my monthly print subscription of "The Hindu" also gave me access to online version


You can buy a single issue of The Economist as a Kindle magazine. But they don't make it easy for you.

If they did I'd do it more often.


Newspapers used to make most of their money from adverts. Facebook/Google have stolen all that revenue which is why the media companies have all been struggling to find new business models.


Don't forget Craigslist. Classified ads used to be the major source of revenue for a lot of smaller papers.


Back in the peak days of the newspaper stand model, the paper you picked up would be chock full of ads, and the newpaper made most of the money from the ads, not the purchase price. But they could probably figure out an appropriate cost and duplicate that model.


> “But wait,” says Mr Manager, “you already subscribe to five publications, so you’ve proved you have a propensity to subscribe! You’re exactly my target market!” Wrong. It’s exactly because I’ve done some subscribing that I’m just not gonna do any more.

Exactly. Same thing is happening with cable unbundling. Few people want to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, ESPN+, Disney+, Peacock, and YouTube TV/Sling/Fubo/Philo/whoever to get all the content they're interested in.


And I see it amongst my friends, who're gradually all moving to "pay for a subscription to something, to salve the 'I'm not a pirate!' conscience, and go back to BitTorrent and shared/private Emby server networks for anything you want to watch that's not on the service you're paying for".


In 2003 Valve determined that piracy, then rampant in PC gaming, was a service problem. They built Steam to provide a better service than piracy. Years later, after Steam has all but eliminated PC game piracy and helped create a thriving market even for the niche-est of genres, their competitors complain about their de-facto monopoly.

There's a lesson in here somewhere.


It seems that both Steam and Spotify addressed this by becoming the dominant player in their space. Yes there are alternatives to Steam on PC and there are alternatives to Spotify, but those two have the vast majority of the content you are looking for.

Video streaming was like that for a while. You had Netflix and it was the king in town, but then all the other services started to roll in and take their content off Netflix.

I find it to be this wired tug of war between buisneses and consumers. On the one hand as a consumer you almost want a monopoly in the space as all your favorite shows or music will be on one platform (like Spotify). But we all hate monopolies so from the business side you would want healthy competition. The problem is that "healthy competition" means you now have to subscribe to 10 services instead of 1.


The issue is that pirating games is a lot harder nowadays. Almost all multiplayer games have protections in place that make pirated games impossible to play online with people who legally bought the game, and for single player games updating means redownloading the torrent.


On that note, is there anything like Steam for movies and TV shows? I would love a platform where I could make a one-time payment for perpetual access to a movie or season of a show at a reasonable price.


Amazon Prime Video was this before fbrh got into streaming original content a la Netflix


iTunes?


It's just not true though. You could use the same argument after he'd already subscribed to four publications: should the Vancouver Sun not have bothered trying to get him to subscribe because he's already done some subscribing and is obviously "not gonna do any more"? Of course not. He really was their target market. And I'd be willing to bet within a year he'll have subscribed to content from another publisher, possibly at the expense of one of the existing ones.


You don't think there's any kind of limit that most people will reach?

I know I have the same cable unbundling problem and have mentally decided that the maximum amount of subscriptions I will have is 4. If I want to subscribe to a new one, I find the one I'm using the least and unsubscribe from it first before adding another.


I think for most people there probably is not a hard limit. Perhaps for some people, and some N, it becomes harder to add the (N+1)th service over the Nth.

I'm certain that averaged over all readers, the reader who subscribes to four paid news sources already is a better sales prospect than the one who doesn't subscribe to any.


I don't have much sympathy for this argument. If you're a very heavy consumer of the content, it makes good sense that you end up paying more.

It used to be that your only options were cable or satellite packages that included lots of content you didn't want to pay for. People complained, and wished they could only pay for the content they watched. Now we have multiple competing Internet streaming subscription services, and people are complaining it isn't all bundled together.

If you only watch a few shows, you can buy them a la carte from Google/Amazon/iTunes/etc.

What really matters is pricepoint. A couple of subscriptions still runs far cheaper than a cable package. People will keep complaining until they can get every show there is for a minimal fee, but I don't see why we should expect that to be a realistic possibility.


With all due respect, your post boils down to "we should be glad it isn't as bad as it used to be". That doesn't at all imply that the current state is desirable.

It's more about access and convenience than entitlement. Even on Google/Amazon/iTunes, you simply can't access all content. Depending on where you are globally, it might not even be possible to gain access if you subscribe to every available streaming service. It's not like there's a common infrastructure where all content is published, with streaming services as a wrapper on top. And as Gabe Newell said, "The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting anti-piracy technology to work. It's by giving those people a service that's better than what they're receiving from the pirates."

The reality is there are a lot of exclusive, regional licensing schemes that preclude the content from being accessible anywhere for a fee. The media business has been and continues to be distributor centric instead of consumer focused, which is costing them potential revenue while they cling to an outdated business model. This business model likes to pretend the bundle is the product, but makes licensing deals on a per-show or per-franchise basis.

The license holder gets to choose whether I'm fed the "one episode a week" bullshit or whether I can watch episodes at my own leisure, whether to limit streaming to a limited time period or a limited subset of a series' seasons, to postpone my local launch date by an arbitrary delay, and so on. The streaming service middlemen get to decide how much of my time to waste by obscuring quality ratings, limiting discoverability, not listing availability dates, not allow viewing of shows because subtitles aren't yet available, and so on.

We have the networking and storage infrastructure to have any content available anywhere at the same time. We have the payment infrastructure to allow target audiences to access your content and pay a variable price based on what they watch. We know how to make rich user interfaces where users can indicate their viewing preference. The only conclusion I'm left with is media companies want to compete on status instead of merit.

I really wish we didn't live in a time of rent-seeking, "engagement"-driven, anti-consumer walled gardens of crap.


> your post boils down to "we should be glad it isn't as bad as it used to be".

It doesn't. I responded to the complaint that there are now many competing subscription services.

> That doesn't at all imply that the current state is desirable.

I don't see any problem with there being multiple competing subscriptions, and you've not pointed any out. Your other complaints are valid but are on different topics.

> Depending on where you are globally, it might not even be possible to gain access if you subscribe to every available streaming service.

I wasn't commenting on this, but I agree it's long overdue to fix these region peculiarities. It's a market failure of a sort. An example from here in the UK: there's no way to buy episodes of The Simpsons on any streaming service.

> The license holder gets to choose whether I'm fed the "one episode a week" bullshit or whether I can watch episodes at my own leisure

That's not necessarily anti-consumer. For a show like Game of Thrones, releasing an episode a week is important to enable 'water-cooler conversations' about the show, which many viewers enjoy.

> whether to limit streaming to a limited time period or a limited subset of a series' seasons

Those limitations may be due to licensing/syndication agreements. The streaming provider might only have paid for a limited time window in which they're authorised to stream certain content. I don't think Netflix ever remove content that they own outright.

> obscuring quality ratings, limiting discoverability

These are both annoying, but streaming services don't have a monopoly on recommendations and reviews. Personally I put very little stock in their recommendations anyway, so I don't much care when they mess about with them.

> not allow viewing of shows because subtitles aren't yet available

Guessing here but that might be done in the name of inclusiveness. Adding subtitles improves disabled accessibility of the service. A strong policy of all shows must have subtitles might be a good thing; deaf users can then use the service in the knowledge that all available shows are accessible to them.

> We have the payment infrastructure to allow target audiences to access your content and pay a variable price based on what they watch.

The point of the subscription model is that you pay the same monthly rate no matter how much you watch. If you want to buy a la carte, you already have that option too. I don't see any problem here. If you mean to say you think the prices are too high, that's a different matter.

> rent-seeking, "engagement"-driven, anti-consumer walled gardens of crap.

It's not rent-seeking. Shows are costly to produce. (I happen to support radically reducing copyright durations, but that's not the same topic.)

I agree engagement-driven ecosystems can be very troublesome, but it's more an issue on YouTube (pushing people to watch politically toxic garbage), not so much with paid subscription services.

What do you mean by walled garden in this context?


First off, thank you for taking my post in good sport despite its... empassioned nature.

> For a show like Game of Thrones, releasing an episode a week is important to enable 'water-cooler conversations' about the show, which many viewers enjoy.

That's a fair point I hadn't considered. One could ask whether that decision is up to the distributor, but that's a quibble.

> These are both annoying, but streaming services don't have a monopoly on recommendations and reviews. Personally I put very little stock in their recommendations anyway, so I don't much care when they mess about with them.

Would you agree reliable recommendations would be a value-added service?

>> not allow viewing of shows because subtitles aren't yet available

> Guessing here but that might be done in the name of inclusiveness.

Another excellent point I hadn't considered. How do you feel about, say, English subtitles not being available in a country that doesn't have it as a national language, with the series having been released in the Anglo world already on the same service?

> If you want to buy a la carte, you already have that option too. I don't see any problem here.

By your own admittance, à la carte isn't always an option - you'd mentioned the Simpsons in the UK.

> I agree engagement-driven ecosystems can be very troublesome, but [...] not so much with paid subscription services

I agree YouTube is worse at actively trying to limit what you see based on what they think you should watch, but I see elements on Netflix, too, with it moving around UI elements to try and get me to engage with what they've curated, pop-ups telling me "what I've missed" and so on.

> What do you mean by walled garden in this context?

I suppose what I meant to point out is that in my opinion, these services aren't actually competing, since their content offering is mutually exclusive. Seldom are two shows simultaneously available on two different streaming services. Perhaps this is a local expression of streaming providers, I'm not sure.

This diminishes the need for said service to distinguish itself on customer service, convenience and UX, since there's no one else offering the same content. That makes me question the added value of the middle man for the consumer, but I suppose content producers see Netflix and co as the consumer, not you or me.

They're competing like broadband providers are competing in the US, based on exclusive territory. The same could be said for gaming consoles, but to a lesser degree since there are way more multi-platform games.

I'm aware this is a judgement based on my own preferences, since they can be said to compete in terms of what their bundle contains. I'm personally not interested in bundles. I'm interested in good quality shows and movies. I'm interested in having a say in which shows get prolonged for another season and at which price point I'm still willing to endorse them.

Like you've indicated, this will probably never completely be the case, since that would make it cost prohibitive for content producers to try anything new, but some modicum of democratisation wouldn't hurt. It's happened for some areas of retail and for the music business, why not for video content? I'm imaging a blend of kickstarter mechanics and content aggregation systems. Perhaps with a mandatory "Innovation" subscription to fund new IP and a corresponding pilots/preview channel.


> Would you agree reliable recommendations would be a value-added service?

Yes, and I agree it's annoying when they play games with these systems, when they could just make a product that customers like. In the case of Netflix, the interests of the user and the subscription provider are relatively well aligned. It's more of an issue in YouTube where people can be pointed to toxic lies. That kind of thing can have real consequences in the world, it's not merely causing people to waste their time online.

> How do you feel about, say, English subtitles not being available in a country that doesn't have it as a national language

If it's translation into a foreign language then that's a different matter. The disabled access point really only applies when it's a native language in the relevant region. Still a plus to have it, but I don't think it would make sense to withhold a show until it's ready.

> à la carte isn't always an option

Sure, I was generalising. These peculiar omissions do occur. There's still the option to buy/rent these things on disc, at least.

> curated, pop-ups telling me "what I've missed"

Good old FOMO-based marketing.

> these services aren't actually competing, since their content offering is mutually exclusive

That's still competition, they're competing on having the best shows. They're in no way obliged to all offer the same stuff.

If Netflix turns to garbage, downgrades everything to 480P, stops producing/licensing decent shows, increases their prices, and introduces adverts, then people will move over to Prime and the other alternative services.

> This diminishes the need for said service to distinguish itself on customer service, convenience and UX, since there's no one else offering the same content.

Not really, as they're not competing only on having the best shows. They compete on convenience and quality too. This is why Amazon has invested in support for Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Wii U, Chromecast, Apple TV, many different smart TV brands, etc. Some competing services have made less of an investment in supporting these platforms, and are consequently less appealing to customers. Amazon are keen to highlight that with a Prime subscription, you get 4K content for no additional charge, unlike Netflix.

> That makes me question the added value of the middle man for the consumer, but I suppose content producers see Netflix and co as the consumer, not you or me.

You pay Netflix, and Netflix provides you with a streaming service and pays licensing fees to external content-producers. They're 'middle men' in a sense but they're earning their cut.

Content producers make money through Netflix, and through direct sales to customers through discs and through streaming rentals/purchases with services like Google Play Movies.

> They're competing like broadband providers are competing in the US, based on exclusive territory.

No, that's not a fair comparison at all. With the ISP situation in the USA, each individual customer has little to no choice about which ISP they will have to use. That's not the case here, where customers have many competing services to choose from.

This is competition in action. There's no reason they should all offer the same shows, instead they should compete to offer me the best shows they can, then I'll decide which subscription(s) are worth my money. Fortunately, this is exactly what they're doing.

> It's happened for some areas of retail and for the music business, why not for video content?

From the point of view of someone like Netflix, making a highly unusual show is a high-risk investment of tens of millions of dollars. I'd say they're doing a pretty good job of not being too risk-averse though: Stranger Things was hardly a sure bet, but we can be sure Netflix are glad they went for it. Competition with Amazon Prime is presumably one of the reasons they did it; they know they have to keep adding quality content to stay in the game.

> I'm imaging a blend of kickstarter mechanics and content aggregation systems

I don't know of any successful TV shows made through Kickstarter-style funding. I don't want to be dismissive of the idea but I haven't been given a reason to think it could be made to really work well.


I for one would be happy to subscribe to 20+ distinct apps for TV & sports, if only it meant I could truly cancel cable and only consume internet service from the cable company.

But of course many apps require over the top extra cable-based subscriptions to channels to access content. So it’s not unbundling, it’s just regular cable bundling plus a ton of extra apps tacked on, the worst of both worlds.


This all really started with a-la carte subscriptions, which were a good thing, even if it only partially solved the problem and was implemented without much granularity by the cable providers (there used to be so many channels that most people just never cared about). Then with the internet, there started to be less need for a provider to bundle everything, so services started popping up everywhere.

Really, this is one of those areas that it would be wonderful if there was some standard by which content providers could expose their content and the metadata for it, and if you had an account with access it would be added to some aggregator for you. Sort of like what you get with Apple and Roku, with search ability through apps/channels, but in a more normalized fashion. Being able to add a discovery URL and access credentials and have a system automatically add content would be wonderful as a consumer, but the incentive just isn't there with the providers because there's always some big exclusive access deal, or a deal across multiple providers, so I'm inefficiently paying for the same movie on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. I want a world where I can add Netflix and Amazon Prime credentials to Hulu, and access all the content through Hulu, or Hulu and Amazon Prime credentials and watch everything in Netflix, or just add them all to Roku and have it add all the content to an interface there for me to use.

Amazon is actually getting closest to this in functionality, if not in spirit, by allowing you to subscribe to lots of other services through it and they show up there. Of course, you have to pay Amazon for them, and you are stuck using Amazon to view them, so it's not really equivalent at all.


Why own the water when you can own the pipes?


Starting about a year ago I began to see ever more articles in entertainment media about subscription fatigue and the coming "great re-bundling," especially in streaming services.


Well, I hope so. My reaction to choice fatigue is to say "forget it". I'll do something else instead.


> Few people want to subscribe to ... whoever to get all the content they're interested in.

I don't need to watch anything right away, so I keep track of what I want to watch, and rotate my subscriptions monthly to binge it. Not ideal, but I'm kind of only paying for what I want to watch, instead of a running fee for multiple services.


When Disney+ was announced, I joked to my friends that I was going to do a business startup where you buy one subscription and you get Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Disney+, etc. I'd call it "cable.com".

Everything old is new again.


I think the Web Monetization API currently incubating as a proposed W3C standard would provide the experience you are desiring.

Consumers establish a wallet provider and install a browser extension (for now, until the standard is formally adopted). When a Web Monetization HTML tag is encountered, the browser starts streaming micropayments every second while you are engaging with the content.

Content creators can then do things like grant access/remove the paywall, not load/remove ads, or offer bonus features.

Today, GQ, Wired, and ~1,000 other sites are experimenting with the Web Monetization API. The only wallet provider right now is Coil, but the protocol is well defined and ready for other players.

References: - https://webmonetization.org/ - https://coil.com/ - https://mobile.twitter.com/WebMotized


"the browser starts streaming micropayments every second while you are engaging with the content."

This sounds bad. Websites will have even more reason to delay you with slow scrolling, filler text, popup windows just to make you stay on the website longer. Kind of like subscription based MMORPGs have slow travel times, long character leveling and a lot of grind to make you play longer.


It sounds really bad, though it's pretty hard to understand. Webmonetization.org/explainer is a 404, but I think I found it at https://webmonetization.org/docs/explainer/. One thing it says is "It should also be possible to: Tell the browser NOT to pay a particular website any money." We may end up with blocking lists like ad blockers, and getting put on or taken off such a list could be very contentious. Clickbait, introductory waffle, deliberately hard to understand information, bloated articles around tiny snippets of useful information, etc. would all be strongly incentivised. I'd rather just block every payment by default, and manually enable a few.

Coil's website is very vague and light on information, but two things it says are 1) you pay $5 per month [1], and 2) Coil pays websites $0.36 per hour spent [2]. That's ~14 hours of engaging with content per month, or just 30 minutes per day. What happens when it runs out? Payments stop? Access is cut off? Have to top up like a pay-as-you-go phone?

I think if I ever signed up for such a system I would become very practised at quickly judging a site and closing the tab. I visit plenty of sites I wouldn't give money to. Why not just give me a button to click when I want to pay 10c or whatever?

[1] https://coil.com/

[2] https://coil.com/creator


The sensible thing would be to make it opt in. Then the initial interaction is "give us a try" instead of some dark pattern designed to make it hard to leave the page or whatever.

Could still have community managed lists, where adding/enabling the list switched payment on for those sites.


> When a Web Monetization HTML tag is encountered, the browser starts streaming micropayments every second while you are engaging with the content.

Will it empty my wallet as I attend an emergency?

Will we see an uptick of sleazy tactics?

At least for articles I ask: make it inexpensive for providers and simple for me. I pay them for articles, they show me articles, preferably easy to download as pdf.

I'd probably pay a few tens more pr year for regional or global news as well as quality blog posts. (I already subscribe to the local newspaper and one national newspaper and I'm forced to pay a few hundred for the national broadcasting.)

But like Tim I am not going to add more subscriptions unless they are just like Spotify, - and even then I think that will be a bad deal for both me and the publishers.


I view mobile free-to-play games as the preview of some micropayment-oriented professions. They suck away your time if you don't pay up, and at that point I don't think it's even worth engaging in news reading.


I truly hope they shy away from paying for 'engagement' and at the very least make it a conscious decision for the user to pay for 'access'.

We already have a lot of people and bad techniques dedicated to driving 'engagement' on platforms like facebook and youtube. These are not good for the users. Having many more providers strive to keep our attention for as long as possible is very much not what I want.

Besides, the value I get from an article is quite unrelated to my 'enagement' with the article. At least with facebook / youtube. It makes _sense_ because every second I engage is another possibility to show me an add / pump up their stats. But if I am going to be paying for an article, I kind of want maximum oomph per minute spend reading the article.

Please don't let the newspapers growth-hack their way into getting more monetization payments. Please just let me pay per article or subscribe if that is what I want.

And whatever happens, don't let my browser start spending my money without my explicit consent. If every second my browser is on is gonna cost me money that will give me shittons of anxiety


Oh hey, now my 20 background tabs can cost me money, that's useful. Will they show a ($) icon like they currently show a "playing sound" icon?


Not only that. Am I going to pay twice if I reload the page / close and reopen the browser / reboot the computer / view the same article in another browser or my phone / read it again tomorrow / etc?


Rest assured it will be whatever is most expensive for you.

The idea that an HTML tag can cost someone money without explicit approval every single time is ludicrous.


Given that the implementation seems to be "constant drain of money per time open" then reading it twice costs twice, and the only way to read at your leisure without throwing away money is to paste the text into Notepad.


I expect a browser extension to emerge immediately that transparently clones pages and views them locally.


That won't necessarily help if there's still a "bleed money to XYZ" HTML tag in there.


You mean a piece of text that is easily filtered out?


Talking to a friend of mine a few days ago. He develops with Flutter for Android and iOS. He told me that (almost) the same code can render to the web as pixels in a canvas tag. I didn't investigate the details (copy and paste, etc) but it's another step toward full black boxes that will do whatever they want, without any chances of blocking some parts of them.


As easy to filter out as adverts.

Don't suppose that they won't use all the same tricks to inject it after the fact, or from obfuscation.


It solves the problem only partially: newspapers can't live from small payments on popular articles only, they need bundling to generate enough volume.

Same thing can be seen with music industry: spotify doesn't pay enough per play, so artists are now told to use spotify as marketing, and make money from performances.

Not sure what a newspaper performance would look like.


> newspapers can't live from small payments on popular articles only

Printed newspapers were surviving just fine despite selling for a few bucks despite it being a physical piece of paper that needed to be printed & delivered on very tight schedules.

The same model should be applied for the web - the price point is already proven to be affordable enough for the majority of the market, and the lack of logistics would generate higher profits.


Newspapers were not surviving from few bucks: they had subscriptions (bundling low value content with high value content) & advertisements (lower margins now, moved to other channels like craigslist). And logistics may have been expensive, but IT infrastructure and staff is not cheap either.

A few aggregation sites have tried to bundle news from different publishers for 10$/euro per month (e.g, blendle). But as can be seen from the original prices of a subscription ($250+ / year / publication), this means a much lower revenue per publication than before. For half the price, subscribers get all the publications. This is not going to be enough for the publishers to survive.


> Printed newspapers were surviving just fine

Oh boy, that's so not the case.

My previous job was still in IT but the company had a strong foothold in the news&media sector. Most newsroom are struggling and have been for at least the last ten years.

Digital content has eroded newspapers' income very very much.


> Digital content has eroded newspapers' income very very much.

This is the concept I don't think people get when they say "clearly newspapers used to be sustain themselves in the past" -- the market has fundamentally changed and now newspapers and magazines aren't the only game in town competing for people's passive entertainment time.


Ads - especially classified ads - paid for newspapers.


> Not sure what a newspaper performance would look like.

An election? /s


That is excellent


The other nice thing about Web Monetization is that you can use it to divide earnings to content providers on your site through probabilistic revenue sharing [0].

I have been using it for the last 3 months and it is simple to implmentent and helps support an open standard.

The concern on basing payment on length of the site visit are valid and something I think will need to be addressed at some point. People will try to game it as it gains acceptance.

Awarding the length of visit also isn't aligned with the goal of all types of websites. My site is a web search engine, and the goal is for people to spend as little time on the site as possible because it means I sent them to where they needed to go by giving them the right result quickly.

I do hope it gains greater acceptance.

[0] https://webmonetization.org/docs/probabilistic-rev-sharing/


>I have been using it for the last 3 months and it is simple to implmentent and helps support an open standard.

>The concern on basing payment on length of the site visit are valid and something I think will need to be addressed at some point. People will try to game it as it gains acceptance.

Please post the name of your site so I can make sure to never visit it.

Not because you're bad or evil. Not because your content is bad or doesn't match my "biases."

But because the entire idea that just visting your site entitles you (or anyone else) to income is incredible hubris and disrespectful of the intelligence of your users.

Hey. I get it. We all need to make money to pay for the things we need to survive.

But creating an environment where the decision to visit a site (not even to access content, if I understand the spec properly) requires a calculation as to whether or not I first want to pay is so far from being reasonable (think being automatically charged, say, $10 as a minimum purchase when you enter an Amazon Go[0] store).

Please don't consider this a personal attack. It is not. Rather, I'm using strong language to express my point and encourage you to back off that road.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=16008589011


That's an interesting perspective, and I don't feel attacked at all but rather appreciate the feedback.

I do think there is a misunderstanding of how Web Monetization currently works though.

You won't be charged anything to visit the website UNLESS you subscribe to a Web Monetization provider and wish to contribute to websites that you visit in this way. Right now, the only Web Monetization provider is Coil. Coil charges members $5 a month and handles the distribution of payments to sites that the user visits.

So unless you subscribe to Coil you wouldn't be charged anything, and even then it is capped at a pre-paid $5/month that get's distributed to all the website that you visit who participate in Web Monetization.


> But because the entire idea that just visting your site entitles you (or anyone else) to income is incredible hubris and disrespectful of the intelligence of your users.

I'm not sure your vitriol is called for here, it seems very easy to selectively enable and disable monetization [1]. I'm not OP, but if I were to monetize a search engine I'd have the <meta> tag on the results page but _not_ on the home page. Likewise if I were a content provider, I wouldn't monetize the index page. I imagine and hope that this would be standard practice, but perhaps I'm being overly optimistic.

[1] https://webmonetization.org/docs/start-stop


>I'm not sure your vitriol is called for here, it seems very easy to selectively enable and disable monetization [1].

Easy for who? And for what purpose?

Implementing an HTML tag that will attempt to charge you money is wrong on so many levels.

If I walk into a store (click on a link), even though I know there's stuff to buy there, the store (website) doesn't have the right to charge me just for walking into the store (hitting the landing page) -- unless they clearly let me know that (perhaps a big sign on the door?) before I enter the store.

And as for what you would or wouldn't do, that's great! You're a stand up guy[0].

Sadly, there are way too many people who would abuse this in a hot minute. Especially since many folks wouldn't even find out about it until they get some sort of transaction notification (with a credit/debit card, that could be weeks).

[0] N.B.: That's not snark or sarcasm. It's good to know that there are still other people who will do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Thank you.


> Implementing an HTML tag that will attempt to charge you money is wrong on so many levels.

Just a quick clarification. The HTML tag doesn't charge you anything. It just indicates that the website participates in WM and provides a location on where the website can accept a payment.

You still need to subscribe to a Web Monetization provider that actually makes the payment and calculates the amount.

You have 100% control over whether you want to participate in Web Monetization or not.


Can't say that I disagree with your sentiment, but it's funny that getting automatically charged each time someone wishes to browse your content is the norm and no one bats the eye.


So it trusts the client's browser to determine what they owe? If the payment is relying on goodwill that might be ok, I suppose.

Their Documentation and Explainer links are both broken.


The explainer seems to have moved here: https://webmonetization.org/docs/explainer/

The Docs link at the top works, so it's supposed to go to https://webmonetization.org/docs, which redirects to https://webmonetization.org/docs/getting-started


Ezra Klein’s interview with Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post (formerly of the Buffalo news) included a lot of discussion on the economics of media and news [1].

Her conclusion is that historically the local newspaper(s) had a monopoly on advertising. That advertising shifted to national ad campaigns on television, national papers (so her transition from Buffalo is highly relevant), and finally online advertising.

In particular though, the “cover everything for our readers” model has broken down pretty massively. The rise of focused journalism and partnerships between papers is apparently giving rise to some innovation here (the basic form is that you get articles from associated press for most things and then supplement with local stories, but the Texas Tribune is mentioned as having a fairly different donation based model plus collaboration with Politico).

So more than anything, I read this as “people will only subscribe and budget for so much media; what will they keep vs drop?”. The default answer has become “only the major international sources”. tbray’s list is incredibly “and also some local” by contrast! But not everyone is going to do that, and the conclusion has been the accelerated decline of local journalism.

The thesis of her book and the discussion is that’s a huge loss, and we likely need different funding models for this public good.

[1] https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/the-ezra-klein-show/the...


If a public good is technically difficult for the private sector to produce, that still leaves the option of the public sector, or of individual households?


I’d actually recommend the discussion during the interview (kind of towards the end, IIRC).

There’s a decent back and forth about the risk of political influence in journalism if the money were controlled by a government, the relative pros and cons of the philanthropy model (“tend to prefer ‘serious’ journalism, not local small news” in addition to needing to avoid angering the benefactor), and the various donation / crowdfunding / micro transaction possibilities. I think there was also a little detour into “why ads at all?”.


Bring back traditional advertising. No user profiling, no retargeting, no data collection. Pay for exposure and not clicks. Problem solved. Micropayments is a red herring.

Print newspapers use to cost what, 50c a piece? And that included an absolutely massive printing, sales and distribution infrastructure. It is preposterous that digital publishing would cost more.


I think if the world switched back to traditional advertising (which on the web for me means contextual targeting) and we stopped allowing third party ads to run a bunch of JS, I'd be willing to switch off my ad blockers. Until then, I'm afraid these publications won't be get paid for my eyes/clicks.


Underrated idea but very complex in practice. Contextual is coming back regardless as third-party cookies go away. But, I think “traditional” in this sense means brand advertising with broad reach, not micro-targeted messages for narrow audience. Like, why don’t you see nearly as many Coke ads online as you do IRL?

Hypothetically, this kind of advertiser wants “brand safe” context (high-quality, inoffensive, not-too-weird) but is otherwise mostly looking to reach as many people as possible in its core demographics. Figuring out if something is brand safe at the margin is pretty tough and you actually can’t trust ad exchanges for this signal, so that’s what at least some of that JS from advertisers is for. Also, “the margins” on the internet are huge, likely most of the page. Internet has not done well here, traditionally.

These advertisers traditionally loved primetime TV and glossy magazines, with high production values and usually safe content. A surprising amount of this brand money is still in traditional linear TV advertising, despite the fact that most key demos have already given up on linear TV.


Another problem with online ads vs traditional media is the lack of human review.

I know I can trust ads that are shown on public transport or in a major printed magazine/newspaper to not be a fly-by-night scam, malware or bullshit dropshipping operation.

On the web, I know I can not trust anything because none of it is reviewed, the ads change depending on the time of day and who looks at them (targeting) and stuff like Taboola/Outbrain are running their entire business on churning out obnoxious content.


Developers cost a lot more than typographers and delivery boys and you need a lot of them to run a modern online media. A developer on staff is sort of like a subscription that the newspaper pays.

The way to bring back advertisement to newspapers is to use antitrust rules and to start taxing search engines and social networks. When Facebook or Google runs an ad for my local gym, it is taxed in some remote tropical island (where it's usually not taxed at all). When my local newspaper runs the same ad, it's taxed locally. Basically, where I see the ad.

I don't like advertisement in newspapers more than the next guy but that was how our democracy worked. News media got paid. With that money they could do journalism. Now, most of that money goes to a handful of companies that do very little to keep a check on politicians.


Disagreed.

Developers may cost more, but you only need a handful of them for a set period of time and you can build a very simple platform if you don't chase fads (no SPA, no Kubernetes/microservices, no overpriced cloud providers). That is a one-time cost vs ongoing cost of delivery for a physical paper.

There was a submission on here recently about how Remoteok.io runs on a PHP and jQuery (and a very small server behind it according to the comments) and manages to bring around 40k/month.


This would of course be true for any software development if we programmers could do real magic and create perfect software.

I assure you (given that I used to work for one of the largest news organisations in Sweden) that there is no such thing as a simple platform when it comes to news. Sure on the front it is "just" a website.

Then of course there is the subscription backends, the systems that calculate how many print papers to send to _each_ little store in the whole country, the system that people write in (regardless if you write your own you still have to have it interface with your backend, and don't forget you need to have a way for your person on the fronline in syria to publish as well), many organisations now have video which is another whole beast. Etc, etc.

Now you might not like it and just want to have just text (I'm many ways I'm with you there) but it's a lot more to having a digital newspaper than you might imagine.


> Developers cost a lot more than typographers and delivery boys and you need a lot of them to run a modern online media. A developer on staff is sort of like a subscription that the newspaper pays.

That's quite amazing. Then what was the whole point of going online (broadly speaking), if not to decrease delivery cost of articles?


> Then what was the whole point of going online (broadly speaking), if not to decrease delivery cost of articles?

To chase the audience that had gone online. The newspapers were loosing customers to other sites that could produce articles cheaply themselves or republish newswire stories or rely on content from users and didn't have the overhead of a traditional newspaper


> didn't have the overhead of a traditional newspaper

Hm. So you are saying going online decreases costs? Can't have it both ways...


No I’m saying people aren’t buying print newspapers. There’s 30% less than in 2000 and the revenue of the remaining has dropped off a cliff. The surviving papers have moved online to find new customers and some have got rid of print version altogether.


Why would I read online news when I can just have information streamed directly into my consciousness with a brain implant?

Why would I read the newspaper that comes in a few weeks when I can get instant information online?

Why would I wait for the town crier to come through in a few days when I can get instant information from this "news-paper"

Why would I wait until Sunday afternoon at the cathedral to get the town news when we're all assembled together in the middle ages when the town crier is coming past later this week?


You only need a lot of developers if you are trying to do sophisticated things with tracking, engagement, etc. A basic WordPress install doesn't require a team of developers to run full-time and that's the equivalent of a printed paper.


I suspect that this isn't a popular viewpoint given that a significant portion of the reading population's livelihood is based on believing differently.


You know, since the early 2000s, every single newspaper also had an online presence while delivering their paper. It's literally text and pictures on a screen, not software applications - at least it used to be like that.


Have you got a source for the claim about developer costs? It seems believable, but I don’t think many media companies publish detailed information about their labour costs, and I also expect a huge difference between eg. local news and global mastheads with scaling issues.


That cost also was supported by significant advertising revenues, including things like a "classified ads section" and "want ads", whole categories that now support separate industries.


>Problem solved.

Nope. Ad CPMs in the print era were an order of magnitude higher than today. All of the shady online advertising tactics are an effort to improve CPMs and eke out something resembling a functioning business model. Removing those tricks just means making less money, for businesses who are already barely surviving.

Print newspapers used to cost 50c because of the classified section. Online news didn't kill the newspaper business - Craigslist, Zillow and Monster did.


I assume readership base per particular publication is lower then before plus when in open market they get lower $ for x views then they used to.


FWIW, media doesn't reach me at all anymore in EU with massive cookie banners everywhere (which is a good thing). Maybe I'm not in the target demographic anymore ;) but I can't believe advertisers don't see a dent in impressions. In fact, their continued reliance on targeted advertising makes me believe CTRs and other metrics are manufactured anyway. It's not like GOOG and FB figures can be verified independently.


From working in media, another problem with micropayments is deciding on that dollar cost.

Without coming up with some administration of value to each article (which I'm not saying isn't worthwhile, it's just not something that's typically done) -- and perhaps even then -- it's very challenging to come up with a value that readers might understand.

If everything is $1, but long investigations or in-depth reporting costs more than that, how do you stop losing potential subscribers (who would contribute more ARR) to these payments. And equally on the (admittedly large) percentage of stories that might not have such value, how do you price them?

This is why subscriptions tend to work. Slowly you can weed out material that isn't working for either acquisition or retention. But you are always going to have articles that are good retainers but poor acquirers. To a micropayment reader the value of that article is low, but to subscriptions it may be higher. You might never do that article if you marked everything by its CAC value, but if you didn't you may lose $5000 ARR.

How on earth do you price it fairly?

It's complicated.

I'd be in more favour of more expensive 24hr passes that show the value of the subscription to regular readers. Say $3 for 24hrs, and $30 for a month. I think in terms of small payments that's as close are you're going to get.


Media is one of the most complicated problems we face in this age. We have on one side a desire for information to be free, and on the other side a desire to profit for one's labor. The middle ground between that is to attract people to give you some of their money for your labor, which changes the nature of the published works. Now your published works must not only be informative, but exciting, and more so than any competition that exists.

This, left unchecked, turns into shock-journalism, or journalism sponsored by entities that may want to sway your opinion on other topics, all the while requiring more advanced modes of convincing you to subscribe - either with your attention or your money.

It's not just a problem of the mechanics of how to pay for something, it's an existential problem of news in general.


Where does advertising fit into this viewpoint?


Advertising was the primary business model for newsprint (also cable news, etc). When the internet came along, the news organisations continued this model. It worked at first, but then (as TFA says) the duopoloy has effectively strangled the advertising model. And some organisations (looking at you Buzzfeed) gamed the system to produce clickbait.

Advertising isn't intrinsic to journalism. You can happily employ journalists and publish stories without advertising, provided someone provides the money.


As I said, journalism sponsored by entities that may want to sway you. That can be anything from simple advertising, to state-controlled media.


It used to be an ideal choice, but as article correctly mentions - we killed it. First some websites got way too greedy with annoying and harmful ads, then the adblockers cut all ad revenue to maybe 1/3 of what it was and then Google and Facebook took over.


> we killed it

No, "we" didn't. Adblockers are a red herring, the masses don't use them.

The real problem is that the metrics and incentives of internet advertising are such that newspaper articles are simply not attractive enough to justify their (high) costs of production. You read a given newspaper article once a day. You check Facebook or Google multiple times per hour. The newspaper barely knows your name and age, maybe where you live; Facebook and Google know everything about you and your tastes. And of course, it costs almost nothing for FB or G to "produce" a page of content (in fact, they get it free from others!), whereas a newspaper has to pay a highly-educated worker. Where will advertisers spend their money, where will they get more bang for their buck?


Not the ideal choice - who provides the money becomes the customer, and keeping the customer happy is important.

I used to run a newspaper, and you definitely get calls from advertisers saying "I don't like this article, change it or I stop advertising with you". Tough calls.


What the author didn't mention explicitly is the obvious sludge techniques used in media subscription models. (https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/resources/mini-encyclope...) In case of The Economist, to which I'm subscribed, you have to call them...on a phone...like it's the 80s The worst offender of the type is scribed.com that has a fake "we're sorry to see you leave" page before you actually hit the final "yes I confirm that I want to unsubscribe" button. This resulted in at least 30 dollars extra that they got from me.


Despite all their faults, that's the main reason I won't subscribe to anything unless I can go through the intermediaries of Apple, Amazon, or Paypal. When I decided to cancel the NY Times, all I had to do is stop payment via Paypal. Didn't have to deal with their retention department, though that department did send me a couple of vaguely angry emails. Still subscribed to the Kindle version of the Economist, but cancellation is just a click away at Amazon. The price I pay for that is non-access to articles on their web site, but I can live with that.


The calling to unsubscribe always gets me. How does this still happen in 2020?


Because someone figured out that hiring one person on minimum wage to handle a phone queue results in them retaining more people than providing a nice and easy unsubscribe option.


Yeah, I understand that.

I just think we as consumers should not accept that.


I don't accept that; it's why I will never subscribe to the NYT.


It's not like this is being advertised when you are subscribing to some service. "Subscribe now and if you ever want to cancel, we'll make you pay! PS. We know where you live."

What could the consumer do apart from relying on word of mouth to avoid such services?


> It's not like this is being advertised when you are subscribing to some service. "Subscribe now and if you ever want to cancel, we'll make you pay! PS. We know where you live."

They could at least ask. But I understand your point.

> What could the consumer do apart from relying on word of mouth to avoid such services?

I'm not sure I understand you. Are you implying you can't follow the news without using these services? Only through word of mouth? If that's what you mean, there are ways to follow the news while avoiding paywalls. I do.


One of the web-only paper I'm subscribed to require an actual letter, with an "Avis de réception", that requires you to go to the post office to get the proper, special envelope, like it's the XIXth century all over again. For a web-only publication, that's quite rich.


How do you pay that doesn't just let you cancel the payments on your end via your bank's/service's website? I'm no very familiar with this problem but I'd expect I could just tell my bank to stop honoring the subscription.


> So, says Mr Manager, “Why on earth would I invest in selling individual articles when a click on the “Subscribe” button gets me a hundred times the revenue?”

> Why they’re wrong: Their arithmetic didn’t consider their chance of getting me to click on “Subscribe.”

Didn’t it? Sure, maybe Tim Bray would have been willing to buy an article for $1 even though he wasn’t willing to subscribe. Maybe a lot of people would have. But if, out of every 100 people who buy the article for $1, a single one of them would have otherwise become a subscriber (if the micropayment option weren’t available), then the paper lost money on net.

To be fair, audience size isn’t constant between the two options. People who read for $1 might forward the article to others; it might end up going viral. But any amount of payment is a huge psychological barrier. I suspect that even in a world with a commonly-used micropayments system, it would be near-impossible for an article to go viral if every person passing it along had to choose to pay $1 first.

And 100 times the revenue is just a staggering factor to overcome.

I think a multi-site fixed-price subscription model would have a much better chance of succeeding, even if it was priced to pay news sites, on average, that same $1 per article – simply because it would remove the psychological barrier. (Other comments have mentioned some subscriptions like this that already exist.) But I won’t get into that further, since it’s not what Tim Bray is proposing.


> any amount of payment is a huge psychological barrier.

We thought the same of mobile software. "People just won't pay for apps!" but it turns out they will, they just have to feel like they're getting a good deal.


But people don’t pay for apps.


Somebody tell Apple then!


I feel the situation with mobile app pricing is similar to what Tim describes for news publishers. Most apps seem to be free to download and use with limited functionality and then use scammy advertising tactics to get you to buy a subscription to unlock the full content.


But if, out of every 100 people who buy the article for $1, a single one of them would have otherwise become a subscriber (if the micropayment option weren’t available), then the paper lost money on net.

I don't think Tim Bray is suggesting removing the subscription option. The point is that there could be a price for an individual article as well as the subscription option. If that 1 person would subscribe anyway then the lack of an individual article price is just leaving the other 99 payments on the table.


No, it might be undercutting the subscription as well.

If nobody ever subscribes any more, and they just choose the articles which interest them and pay, the newspaper may decrease the amount of revenue it gets.


That's an unknown though. Saying it might be undercutting subs is true, but it has no more or less validity than saying it wouldn't. It depends on the number of people who subscribe (could be 1 in 100, but it could be 1 in 10,000), and the number of people who'd pay for an article, and the optimum price they'd pay at, and so on.


Sure - it's all unknown. You can do market research and A/B testing to try and test the market though.


How would you pay for individual articles?

Up-front? (If not, that's called donation.) If so, then what happens if you happen not to enjoy the content?

Will you (users) feel like playing lottery every time you purchase an article? Feel disappointed for the purchase you just made? Or just quit paying on a certain site, for a certain author etc. after reading too many 'bad' (subjectively) articles?

From this standpoint, I understand that subscriptions are for sites - they have editors, policies and a reputation to maintain and you buy into that with a single purchase.

Or rather not, as the article argues... and I argue that per-article micropayments may not be the way out.


For the problem of reader regret with upfront payments (which would be the number one problem with clickbait) I could imagine a time-limited "payment loss." That is within, say, a day of having paid for an article, the reader can decide that the author/publication should not be paid for the article. This is not a refund; the reader does not get the money back. But the author doesn't get the money either.

The money goes into a "black hole." There are several ways of implementing a black hole such as a central fund that is evenly distributed back to all publications participating in the payment system in proportion to their current payout levels, but the important point is that neither the article creator nor the reader nor the payment handler sees that money.

That way readers don't get free articles via spurious refunds, but get the psychological satisfaction they're not rewarding clickbait, article creators are disincentivized from putting out clickbait, and the payment handler isn't incentivized to facilitate clickbait.


It's a nice idea but 90% of the audience would simply not get it. "What do you mean I can't have my money back ?!?"

A quick survey of the comments-section of newspapers will show you very quickly how unsophisticated the general public is.


Yeah. In the case of the general public I think the bigger problem is people just don't want to pay for stuff a la carte. That's what ultimately triggered Blendle's pivot away from microtransactions to subscriptions despite excellent content and a slick UI.

Maybe among those people who are willing to pay a la carte you might have people more willing to accept something like this?


The publication is still paid a bit for the article when money in the fund is distributed to "all publications participating in the payment system". This presents an opportunity for low-effort publications to crank out oodles of articles in the hopes of getting people to either pay for articles or get paid out by the fund.

Why would I, as a reader, choose to participate in your Kafkaesque payment system when the prevailing solution is to contact my card issuer and dispute the transaction? Certainly that takes a lot less time than having to phone the NY Times (because they do not allow you to cancel a subscription through the website).


> The publication is still paid a bit for the article when money in the fund is distributed to "all publications participating in the payment system".

That was a throwaway implementation of a "black hole," there are many others. Although in this particular case that failure mode is handled by proportionality. If they don't make a lot of money they won't get a lot of money (if they make no money they get no money). It's still gameable to some extent by paying for your own articles, but that becomes a bet that you will globally have more disgruntled readers choosing to withhold payment than the cut taken by the payment facilitator, which is a risky bet. There's no risk-free moneymaking opportunity that I see here.

> Why would I, as a reader, choose to participate in your Kafkaesque payment system when the prevailing solution is to contact my card issuer and dispute the transaction? Certainly that takes a lot less time than having to phone the NY Times (because they do not allow you to cancel a subscription through the website).

The point would be that it isn't a subscription and that everything is a la carte so there is no convoluted cancellation process. There's no reason (and no real incentive) for the payment facilitator to make any of this hard to use, unless the number of users who decide to withhold payment is truly gargantuan. Blendle demonstrates that it would be even easier than contacting your credit card issuer (although Blendle used refunds).

The real nail in the coffin is that people in general don't want to pay a la carte and businesses like subscriptions better anyways since the revenue stream is much more stable and, as in the case of the NYT, there's quite a bit of friction for a user to stop paying. A do-nothing default of "I get money from users" vs a do-nothing default of no money is too juicy to pass up.

I think payments a la carte for articles will really only work for individual, part-time writers, who don't have the infrastructure in place to demand a subscription or otherwise don't like subscriptions.


the way blendle works (worked? i heard it was shutting down) is to charge you when you click the link, and the at the bottom of the article offer you a one-click refund if you didn't like it.

it seemed like a great way to do it, but ultimately i found i never used their site because it was slow and confusing to navigate.


It would be a shame if it closed. But I entirely agree with you: searching for content is very limited! There should be a proper search function, by keyword, with the ability to filter by publication.

For instance I once read part 1 of a very interesting investigation, but I could never find part 2 in Blendle (even though I could easily find it on the web). Also, a way to copy-paste a URL in the app and thus pay for an article one has already found is a must-have, in my opinion.


blendle (NL) was aquired by a french publisher very recently. I'm not intimate with the numbers, but the founder wrote in dutch on medium.com about their model multiple times. The Webapp interface to browse the daily crop of Newspapers is actually pretty great, I use it on a handheld. The problem with pay-per-article is the overhead in thinking about "do I want to read this?", but from a consumer perspective it's likely that you spend the same amount on articles of multiple publications than a subscription to one of them, but you're constantly made aware of the costs, as with a subscription, it's a remote thought.


I didn't find the decision to pay-to-read an article on Blendle all that burdensome.

My issues with Blendle were mostly with how it was implemented in practice.

1. Time lag. Someone links a NYT article on Reddit. Ooops! can't read it yet. Have to wait for the print edition to come out, and then it is up on Blendle.

2. Linking. See above. I can't just go to a NYT (or other site), and click on a "pay with Blendle" icon.

I could have lived with the above limitations, but discovery was also poor.

3. No digital index. For magazines and newspapers, you look at a low-resolution scan of the printed version. Then you can click on an article to get a summary pop-up to pay for it. I don't want to browse a digital analogue of a paper magazine! Show me a complete list of the articles with the summaries in a scrollable list, and let me pick from them to purchase access.

These limitations are all no doubt part of the licensing deal with the publishers, but it is so annoying.

As a consumer, I am just not going to spend $1000 USD per year on a bunch of different newspaper and magazine subscriptions. I have a lower amount I'm willing to spend in total. But I am willing to spend.


Build payments in to the browser like what brave is trying to do.

Then I don’t have to subscribe to a hundred different sites, and sites can have a consistent way to charge small amounts per article without worrying about micro transaction costs.


Yep, it's the same problem we've had for a decade. Microtransactions are far from frinctionless (sign up, enter a credit card). News sites need to band together and use a consolidated billing system, where you refill it when it gets low.


> News sites need to band together and use a consolidated billing system

Yes. Although it carries a bit of risk - what happens when VISA does to you what they did to Wikileaks? - some consolidation of backend services is inevitable.

> where you refill it when it gets low

Eff no. "Top-up" schemes are annoying as hell, from a consumer perspective.

It makes more sense to run some sort of exchange, where you register a credit card once and then don't actually trigger payment until it's economically convenient to do so (e.g. when you've "spent" $5 or $10, so card fees won't kill your margins). The exchange takes up some risk (effectively fronting $4.99 per user), but the inconvenience for consumers is very low and there is no friction. I think this would be very popular.


> If so, then what happens if you happen not to enjoy the content?

Why not do what all European countries mandates for all other online purchases: allow refunds. If you regularly have users refunding most stuff they buy: stop doing business with them.


Mine bitcoin in the browser as the user is reading the article?


You never read an article behind a Paywall that showed a first portion asking you to subscribe?


What exactly are the news publishers even providing these days? They aren't a trust authority and they aren't a distribution platform. The internet undermined the first and replaced the latter.

The future could be readers having a direct relationship with authors, and necessary infrastructure "unbundled" as it were. Author pays a non-partisan fact check service to accredit what they say. With proper accreditation they can appear on the distribution platforms with functioning micropayment models (think app stores).

The only reason this problem is unsolved is because the outdated publishers want to stay relevant and are using their existing momentum to die slow. They're the single point of failure in the three-party equation.

Articles will always need writers and they will always need readers. Everything else is up in the air.


I still trust some news publishers as reliable sources, and so does Wikipedia [1]. If I see an interesting headline on social media which I know will be covered elsewhere, I’ll Google it and read an article from a trustworthy source rather than wasting my time on poorly-written or plagiarised writing. Relying on a trustworthy author is even better, but I don’t know the best authors on every subject I’m interested in, nor do I trust the authors I know and like to write on every topic.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources#New...


I was thinking that too. People are voluntarily aggregating news for likes, karma, points and recognition. Gathering some news on a certain webpage and re-writing it in your own words is NOT worth my money. But many online news pages are exactly like this nowadays.

HOWEVER

There is still plenty investigative journalism around. Or even sites that take "complex news" such as the newest draft for a certain law and condense this 40 page paper into understandable pieces. This is the kind of stuff I am donating for.

Everything else I can find on HN / Reddit / Or some of the linklogs I follow. Hell, half of the stuff Is just sent to me via $InstantMessenger


I would go as far as to say the only thing that made newspapers relevant was distribution.

The readers have a direct relationship with authors now. They follow them on Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc. Authors of news are no longer full-time journalists, but everyone online. Everything is news and everyone is an author.

Why pay the NYT to tell you what people will tell you on Twitter?

Why pay a local paper to tell you about a fire or protest the next day, when people will post a video online as it happens?

The post-Internet generations don’t even watch TV or read newspapers at all.


A video of an event isn’t news. It’s data. News is the information that can be extracted from the video and other sources and put in context.

The Twitter user doesn’t ask questions or if he does they are the wrong questions of the wrong people. And why should he bother asking any questions? He’s not getting paid and his viewers aren’t generally seeking news.

That’s not to say Twitter couldn’t work this way, with Joe Random posting about things on his block. It just doesn’t work that way now because the incentives are just not there. My Nextdoor feed is full of news about my neighborhood, but it’s wrong as often as not. Having a setup like the GP suggests is basically necessary to develop trust between readers, authors, and sources, regardless of how the author delivers their content.


You can argue over what should be considered “news”, but updates and commentary on new events are now distributed online by anyone, outside of print periodicals.

For example, video game streamers I follow on YouTube reacting to new game trailers is news to me. It’s how I learn of upcoming games, among other things.

The NYT and similar periodicals are no longer the gatekeepers of distributing new information and commentary.

They can compete in the new information landscape, but they no longer define it.

Journalists no longer need the periodical, they can work for themselves and distribute through Twitter, newsletters, etc.


You’ve just reiterated your point while missing mine. Random people lack trust and access. I agree we don’t necessarily need The New York Times or whoever for trust and access, but we need something.

In your example you’ve added a gatekeeper. If no one reacts to a trailer, you don’t know it exists. And in return you get neither trust—real companies don’t generally create trailers for fake products and if they did your gatekeeper might still react to it—nor access—the trailers are freely available, probably on the same platform you’re viewing the reactions on.


"Why pay the NYT to tell you what people will tell you on Twitter?"

So that I get to know what I should think about it...


More thoughts.

I dabble with publications

1) I subscribe to the Guardian atm even though it is free to read

2) I tried to restart subscriptions with the Financial Times and Economist recently and gave up on both due to shitty behaviour, shitty terms, shitty UI. It is not all about price


I've subscribed to The Economist for 25 years. Has been interesting to see it's transformations. Not only the transition to digital but also the topics they choose to cover - or not. I currently consume on my iPhone. Mostly I listen to it but do occasionally read. Before that I used Android. Certainly some usability issues that are annoying but most apps are worse.


As someone who's only subscribed since recently: could you talk more about this? What observations have you made?


For one, there was no China section. Now it's a manor section. Another thing that old time readers would remember is the risque photos they used to have. It's a British journalism thing - or used to be.


I could never justify FT subscription price. It’s nice when employers provide it, though.


It was pretty galling to find you can't cancel without using chat, and then be offered a huge discount to stay...


I don't see a solution to the subscription vs micropayment problem, but I wonder if we can solve three problems with one solution.

We have a problem where "who is a journalist?" is not defined.

We have another problem that the advertising model of paying for journalism isn't going to work (as TFA points out), and readers need to start paying for their news.

We have another problem that bad actors in our society are paying for misinformation to be spread in order to warp people's political perceptions.

So... can we:

Define a journalist as someone who makes their entire living from selling articles that they write to their readers (also applies to videos/podcasts/radio/etc). And by extension, a "news organisation" is one that sells news articles to its readers (and pays journalists to write them).

Define a difference between "news" - articles that readers pay for, and "fake news" - articles that are paid for by a sponsor organisation.

Organisations that don't charge their readers are still able to publish whatever they like. But they're not considered "news" organisations. The credibility that goes with printing actual paper moves to selling the stories, not the adverts.

Citing or quoting an article that isn't paid for results in a "but that's not news, it's promotional bullshit" - if someone is paying to have this published, then clearly they have a reason for that, and that reason is probably not because it's the truth (otherwise they wouldn't need to pay to publish it).

Forcing news organisations to make their readers and not their advertisers or owners their primary customer would definitely improve the quality of news.


> We have another problem that bad actors in our society are paying for misinformation to be spread in order to warp people's political perceptions.

> Define a journalist as someone who makes their entire living from selling articles

Where does https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/03/daily-teleg... fit into this model?


Good question :)

I guess he's writing an opinion column though? I don't read the Torygraph so I haven't read his column. Opinion columns, as always, are not journalism.


> Opinion columns, as always, are not journalism

... I don't think this is a widely held view, and they're both big money makers and very popular.


> I don't think this is a widely held view,

Outside journalism, possibly. Inside journalism, opinion columns are definitely not journalism. Which is why they are clearly marked "opinion".

They're held to different standards, basically because it's clearly labelled as "just someone's opinion" - there's no need to fact-check, provide balance, or even quote sources.


This article is self-refuting. People are creatures of habit, and as long as the banks allow you to "subscribe" in a way that makes it really, really hard to "unsubscribe", the subscription model will continue winning.

The very idea of a subscription needs to die in order for content to be sold piecemeal.

Having said that, I am about to start a substack to get my own crowd of subscribers. BECAUSE IT MAKES ECONOMIC SENSE TO DO SO - I don't want to have to keep re-selling myself if I can possibly avoid it.


> as long as the banks allow you to "subscribe" in a way that makes it really, really hard to "unsubscribe"

I am very quick to subscribe to patreon and through Google Play because I know I can unsubscribe through those platforms. I won't touch newspapers unless they're through another subscription provider.

> I don't want to have to keep re-selling myself if I can possibly avoid it.

It's time efficient to switch to basically rent seeking. Sometimes that makes sense - I have content creators who I consume so regularly I have no issue giving them a few dollars on the month with the caveat that they are active.

On the other hand, for someone who is new to content creation they are never going to get a subscription from me because it's too risky that they decide to stop quietly and I'm out my entertainment budget money.

Subscriptions only work when I trust you both as a payment processor (so that excludes newspapers) and if you're already established as a trustable content creator.


> Subscriptions only work when I trust you both as a payment processor (so that excludes newspapers) and if you're already established as a trustable content creator.

Sure, but once you have made a name for yourself you want subscribers, which is why Patreon/Substack/etc allow people to subscribe rather than allowing them to either buy/not buy each piece of content. Every seller wants the consumer to default to paying them forever, rather than paying once and then having to make an active decision to pay again. (And before you have made a name for yourself, you don't sell your content at all, you give it away for free)

Control over the "default" behavior is just incredibly powerful. Creators are not going to give it up.


How about the Kickstarter model: you don't pay to access an already written article, but fund a campaign for a newspaper to investigate a particular topic. The newspaper would create a list of topics they could investigate along with required budgets. This would promote investigative journalism, which can be very expensive.


That can go ugly as well. What happens if nobody is putting in money for real issues (some accident somewhere) and everyone is putting in money for vain news (celeb news?).


That would provide a tremendous incentive for newspapers to Find Something, and Find Something Big.


It's so difficult to make money when everyone wants things to be free.

I pay for Medium and that's all right now. I would much like to see the micropayment future - it has to be part of the browser.

I would like to pay in lieu of time. If I could see page statistics of how much time it took for a page to be put together and costs of hosting - I could make a contribution based on this information. I've given random £100 to artists I love for the same reason.


> It's so difficult to make money when everyone wants things to be free.

From a sysadmin POV, the main benefit of the free-as-in-beer-ness of Free Software is that I don't have to deal with the bullshit of licensing, CALs, talking to sales reps and so on, even when my employer would have the cash to pay for it.

Likewise, the main benefit of free content is that I don't have to worry about things like monitoring my bank statements. I can and do pay for some services, and I could afford to pay for more, but each addition increases my financial cognitive load non linearly.


I agree about the micropayments future.

The thing holding it back is some kind of central authority that can process micropayments with significantly less friction and overheads.

Even better if people can accrue credit in some way that isn’t just paying fiat currency in, because we live as a privileged class to have disposable income that is essentially in escrow.


We have de facto micro payments: ads. There is very little overhead for users.

There are a lot of downsides to ads, but it is the most successful micro payment mechanism we have. It is also the most successful online business model we have.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.


Wow, that's really an inspiring model. Thank you for sharing.

Attention as a replacement for hard cash. Hmm... So, how to control its spending as a consumer - that's the question. We're like natives selling land for glass beads. Can we omit ranting and make that a technological problem somehow?


Brave browser is doing exactly what you described.


I think Brave and Coil will hopefully lead the way to decentralised micropayments. They just need to become more popular to the every day reader.


Can I take payments from other browsers? I think what’s missing is a service, not a browser.


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