Make the "Free Press" Free!
By Adam Malev
Dear High Quality Newspapers with Online Subscriptions...
Newspapers like the NYT, WashPo, WSJ and others should come to realize something. No one wants to subscribe to you. By no one I mean the average American, the occasional reader of an article that interests them, the people with jobs who don’t have time to read a newspaper cover to cover or all the articles published online. Readers like us want access to the articles whose headlines intrigue us enough to read them. So let’s imagine the average person wants to read your article. If it’s one from NYT, WashPo, WSJ or any number of other great publishers, we can expect to read, or at least skim through, a high quality article. Now suppose this occasional reader starts reading one of these high quality articles on his or her phone, where the majority of young people get their news. We expect to be able to read any article at any time for any reason. But there is a significant problem with the highest quality publishers. They think people will continue to pay for their newspapers. Coming from a 17 year old who knows only as much about the newspaper industry as I’ve learned from writing for my high school newspaper, the idea that people want to pay to read your articles is naive and wrong. Young people expect the internet, the things they search online, to be free. So when a young person sees “three free articles left” until you have to subscribe for some amount per week or month or whatever unprofitable subscription plan you have in place, we decide we either won’t read any more articles from you after the next three, or we’ll just read articles from other sources. For such prestigious, respected publishers, this business model is stupid. No one wants to pay to read an article online. It doesn’t matter how minuscule the price is. If we have to give you any credit card information, our childhood dog’s maiden name, or any other information just to read an article that many other publishers are covering, we won’t. We won’t give you personal info or credit card information no matter how little the price to subscribe is. So I bet you’re thinking, so if we get rid of our subscription how will we make money and distinguish ourselves from other publishers? Simple. Ads. Advertisement revenue accounts for the majority of profits for myriad online publishers, who may not be as distinguished as the NYT, WashPo or WSJ, but have articles available to any reader at any time. Ad revenue is where the most distinguished publishers should focus on making their money. Let me explain the beauty of online ads. Most advertisers know that their ad has a 50/50 chance of being looked at, depending on if they’re targeting the right audience and marketing correctly. This means that serious readers will be able to read the high quality articles they value and might even see an ad for something that interests them, like a sale at a coffee shop or discount at an online retailer. This would benefit both readers and advertisers as readers wouldn’t have to worry about a subscription to several different online publications, and advertisers would be able to spend more on advertising in the most read, highest quality publications. You can format the ad plan however you want. More revenue for more clicks on the ads, more revenue for larger ads or pop up ads, more revenue for longer articles or those with more readers. Honestly, I don’t care how you make money, as long as your articles are available to all readers without requiring an outdated subscription plan. Now if you’re thinking, what about people who buy actual newspapers? Wouldn’t they stop reading print articles and start reading the free online articles? Yet, that’s not necessarily what would happen. Older readers and those who value being able to hold a physical copy of the newspaper they read would continue to buy your print newspapers. Many readers who have the time to read a print newspaper cover to cover value the organization of the newspaper. They value how they can find all the articles they want to read without tapping a screen or connecting to WiFi. Those who still read print newspapers in 2019, when they could find the same articles online for an often lower price than the print subscription or an individual copy, are unlikely to switch exclusively to online news just because it would now be free. And even if some readers did switch over to the free online version of the articles, this would save tons of paper, albeit paper that is often recycled, but it would decrease the demand for paper. Finally, if any high quality publishers believe that their subscription price distinguishes them from the average publication, they should realize the price of their product does not give it its quality. The quality of articles from the NYT, WashPo, WSJ and many others would not change simply because there is no longer a subscription fee. The quality of the writing from the great writers with original ideas, perspectives, and analyses are what distinguish these publications from the average news source. So get rid of your online subscription plans, increase ad space in your online articles, and give all readers access to the highest quality articles any time. Make your articles free, up your ad revenue.