Paying for journalism

Scotsman Hotel
Scotsman Hotel, a photo by buhny on Flickr.
Today The Scotsman announced that they will make a quarter of their editorial staff redundant, and The Telegraph have decided to set up a paywall. On a more positive note, Wings over Scotland’s fundraiser exceeded its ambitious goal, raising more than £30k.

It’s clear that traditional journalism is in danger. However, I’m not really sure that the solution consists of paywalls, fundraisers, intrusive ads etc.

The things is that in the “old” days (about ten years ago), I spent something like £1 a day on buying newspapers (slightly less on workdays and slightly more on Sundays).

However, the advent of blogs and free newspaper websites has changed my behaviour — instead of reading all of one newspaper, I’m now reading 5% of 20.

The money I can spend on reading news hasn’t gone up, so there’s no way I can spend anything near £1 a day for news. On the other hand, if I had to pay 5p per article or blog posting, I probably wouldn’t spend much more than I used to, and everybody would be happy.

The problem is how to do it. I’m not going to set up subscriptions with direct debits or credit card details separately for the 50-100 news sites that I occasionally visit.

The only solution I can think of is a way for newspapers and quality blogs everywhere to create a payment system together, whereby reading a news article triggers a payment from the reader to the writer of 5p or so. The system would then add up all the small payments and send the reader a monthly bill.

However, it isn’t a perfect solution. Many websites would remain outwith this system (most small blogs and the BBC spring to mind), and there will always be a temptation for users to go for the free websites.

3 thoughts on “Paying for journalism”

  1. That problem was solved a decade ago; Google gives close 50 million hits for “micro payments,” and both PayPal and Google have solutions (though they are a bit US centric right now).

    Alternatively, both Apple, Microsoft, and Google have content stores with associated credit cards. I’m sure they’d love to see more business.

    Finally, there’s also fake currencies. I remember micro payment currencies from the nineties, and today there’s at least Bitcoins, which is also good for paying for piracy and drugs, but I guess could be misappropriated to pay for things you’d actually want.

    1. To some extent you’re right, of course, but even if the payment side of things isn’t a problem, people will still be wary of varying terms and conditions and different article costs if every newspaper comes up with its own solution.
      What I’m envisaging is some kind of system that provides a unified login, so that when you go to a newspaper or blog using the system, it will immediately recognise you and give you full access to all articles, telling the central server how many unique articles you’ve read.
      Special offers, such as reading ten articles per month for free, or paying a maximum of £2 per day, would be decided at a central level, and would therefore apply to all participating news sites.

      1. I see no need to decide that centrally. As long as payment is central, why not let each site decide on their model themselves? Some platforms allow many payment schemes with one central account. Say http://www.tinypass.com/ allows pay per article, subscriptions (different levels), freemium, pay for n articles/month, pay for n articles without time limit, the very popular 3/free/month then subscription, pay what you want and probably others I forgot.

        One global/national subscription is not worth the hassle. I can see the benefit of a global subscription, but the level of agreement necessary makes that very unlikely. Being able to pay in one place (and why not let that place impose a ceiling if you want) is much more likely to succeed IMO.

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