I learned to read from the pages of the Globe and Mail newspaper. For longer than I’m prepared to admit (as in — since Grade 2) opening that paper has been part of my morning ritual. I’ve stuck with it through thick and thin, borne with some of it’s ill-fated attempts at investigative journalism, it’s deep insights, it’s left-wing sense of social justice and it’s right wing apologists who heaped praise on (choose a pejorative) like Conrad Black, even it’s tragically misdirected hiring of Christie Blatchford (complete with some contractual clause that seems to guarantee her at least a sliver of space on the front page every time she writes an article, no matter what).
Yet through all of this what remains the constant for the Globe is it’s love of language. With the exception of just a few of its staff and regular contributors, it’s clear that the vast majority of the paper’s writers have a love affair with the written word. It’s rather sad that this distinguishes the Globe from so many other papers, where the fact of information delivery has taken precedence over the art of delivering it well, or with insight.
Nonetheless, today I terminated my nearly half-century relationship with the paper. Yep, even in my somewhat “older” demographic, there’s subscriber attrition. Why?
Let’s start with the crud. Every morning I grab my paper by the edge near the fold and shake it over the recycling bin until the crud stops falling out. Sometimes the crud is a post-it note, stuck to the front page (it gets trashed unread); sometimes it’s a bag, intent on delivering its message or its “bonus” contents into my attention span before I get to what I want and paid for. It used to be that I’d take note of the offending advertiser, so that I could be sure to punish them by buying a competitive product. Now I just ignore it all.
While I’m on the subject of recycling bins, there’s the distressing pile of paper in that bin at the end of the week. I certainly don’t have time to absorb more than a fraction of each day’s paper, which means I’m just generating waste for no reason at all. It’s time to stop that process in its tracks.
Then there’s the content. Well written though it might be, there’s not much unique content in the paper any more. Moreover, most of it can be picked up with an RSS feed. Certainly the Globe has some unique content, which it’s willing to let me view online for a mere fifteen dollars a month or some such. Although I appreciate that all that information might even be worth fifteen bucks, I really only have interest in consuming a fraction of it, so no thanks to the all-or-nothing deal. I’ll pay fifteen cents each to read John Bentley Mays, Russel Smith and a few others, but only when I have time. One other thing: that’s fifteen cents without ads. If they want to surround those articles with advertisements, my price drops to five cents: there’s no double-dipping allowed.
For years, I’ve been advocating a micropayment model for content providers. I maintain micropayments can be a viable alternative to advertising models, if only there was a decent payment platform. Needless to say, a transaction platform that costs twenty cents per transaction won’t work when you’re selling content in five cent increments. Individual vendors can get around this by setting up a “credits” account, where a consumer pays something like five dollars to purchase 5000 units of credit, for use to access content. The problem with this is that a significant proportion of users will have a one-time relationship with a publication, and leaving 4950 credits lying around with a publisher you’re never going to visit again just doesn’t work.
What’s needed is a common system for micropayments, a PayPal for publishers. The financial transaction payment processing industry is far too busy protecting the insanely high profit margins in it’s current business to even consider micropayments (after all, if you can move 25 cents for two tenths of a cent, then why can’t you move $250 for the same cost?).
The major media should agree to suspend their competitive rivalries and their desires for channel control and set up a common, open payment and licensing platform. Until then, and until major publishers learn to take a page from Google’s approach to advertising and apply it to content, these traditional media powerhouses are going to see their revenues shrink, one middle-aged subscriber at a time.
Postscript: I’ve just discovered that the Globe will sell individual articles — for $4.95 each. It seems that this price is not for a signed, framed edition. Now that would be reasonable. Otherwise, I’m still laughing.