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Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
limitations, subscriptions

The Act Of Subscribing To A Publication Feels Limiting

from the i-choose-you....-and-no-one-else dept

Gina Chen has written up a fascinating column on her reaction to Nielsen's decision to give up on Editor & Publisher, where she makes a point that I think many people may agree with implicitly, without even realizing it. And, it's a point that any publication that is thinking about putting up a paywall needs to consider. It's that, these days, with the wealth of information available online, subscribing to one publications almost feels like you're limiting yourself. Obviously, that's not directly true. You still have access to those others, but the act of making such a commitment to a single source does have a mental notation suggesting that you need to spend time with that source, at the expense of others:
The truth is, for me, not subscribing -- either in print or online -- has little to do with money. It's about commitment. And I think that's the problem many news organizations are facing as they try to bring their products online.

In the old days, I paid for E&P because if I didn't, I'd have no idea what was going on in the industry. I wasn't paying for news; I was paying for the chance to be in the know in my field.

Things changed with the web. Now, if I choose one magazine to subscribe to out of myriad sources, it feels like I'm limiting my options in a way. I don't want to commit to one publication, one source, one newspaper, one magazine. Why? Because the publication has become less important than the news itself. I want to be free to surf, reading dozens of different newspapers, blogs or magazines that I may visit just once or twice. I enjoy the synchronicity of happening upon a publication I have never heard of and will probably never visit again.
This is, in many ways, related to the concept that rather than finding news, for more and more people, the news finds them. Committing to a single publication, or a small group of publications does feel limiting. Now, some people will obviously disagree, but the more familiar you become with reading multiple sources on the web, the less and less it feels sensible to pay for a limited subset of them. And, even if you don't find that to be true for yourself, the fact is that more and more people do feel that way -- and for anyone trying to build a business model based on getting subscribers, they may find that to be quite difficult for this very reason. It's asking for commitment to a single source in an age where sources are abundant. That commitment is costly not just in money (which might not be very costly) but in the mental commitment needed. For a very large number of people, that commitment is way too costly, no matter what the monetary price.

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  • identicon
    Allison K, 14 Dec 2009 @ 1:33pm

    The "scams" label seems harsh there, Mike. Maybe it's not a good value for everyone, but a subscription usually isn't a scam.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    vastrightwing, 14 Dec 2009 @ 2:19pm

    Not willing to pay

    Good point. News isn’t something I want to pay for. Delivery, paper, something tangible, yes. But news itself seems like buying air. It’s ubiquitous and a commodity. News comes from all around me. Why pay for news when it can freely be passed around. Furthermore, I agree that belonging to a particular news source is like subscribing to a news TV channel; limits my news. I disagree reporters need to be compensated heavily for reporting news and that by making news a commodity; somehow we’re relegating news reporters as worthless. Instead, allow the crowd to report and aggregate it. Advertising will support aggregation, because it’s not expensive. If a writer wants to make a living by writing, then he can write a blog and get paid by attracting a crowd himself. This sounds like musicians, doesn’t it? Perhaps writers can write books, which people will pay for (again a tangible item). But I’m not willing to pay money for a 100 word column about an event. Many writers will take their short columns and make a book out of them. People who like the writer, buy them. So when a website decides to make me pay, I will simply go somewhere else. If there is no avenue of free news, I will talk to my friends and find out what’s going. I don’t think free news will ever go away. The big news organizations need to stop whining (along with big music) and learn how to deal with the market the way it is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yogi, 14 Dec 2009 @ 2:27pm


    I never thought about it but that definitely sums up my feelings about subscriptions - i too have gotten used to getting important information from a very wide variety of sources.

    Also, if what i am reading is subscription-based then I can't share it with anybody else and i am surely not going to choose my friends based on such a subscription.

    So, i understand why subscriptions may be a turn-off for a lot of people.

    I'd rather donate time or money to sites I like and help maintain them that way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Coz, 15 Dec 2009 @ 3:49am

    Limiting yourself can be a good thing

    In a time where anyone can have their own blog, some people are worried about the errors in the content or just biased opinions. Opinions can be good in some context: when you have something that you can't test( like predicting the future ) it's good to hear different people talking about their views on different trends and their logic.

    However, I'm involved in the medical field, and as I read this article I was thinking about medical journals.

    The unification of therapeutics, with medicine based on evidence( real evidence ), has improved greatly the performance of young doctors( older doctors refuse to dump their old methods ).

    In Medicine, we can't afford opinions, because if you follow the wrong opinion you can end up with a dead patient. You can't afford to test yourself for the same reason. Errors are more frequent when you pick random sources that sound interesting, and it's not practical for each doctor to verify himself the source because it can't be trusted. It's true that a few known sources makes it easier to make an impact with fake studies but it also makes it easier to control them( as long as the administration of the journal isn't corrupt too ).

    In this case reducing the number of sources does not feels limiting, but it feels secure.

    I just didn't like the negative light that was placed on subscriptions. If a subscription-based source gives you something that a non-subscription source gives, then the commitment is justified.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2009 @ 8:45am

    I think it feels more like anticompetitiveness. As though they're saying, "we know you won't subscribe to a hundred different publications, so you'll just have to make do with ours alone." And I think readers resent that. People like to keep their options open.

    Not that they don't already understand that. I think it's the whole point. They don't want the competition. They want you to subscribe to their service and then stop patronizing their competitors, both with the hope that more of the competitors will go out of business and with the knowledge that the more people use only News Corp sources, the easier it is to indoctrinate them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 15 Dec 2009 @ 11:07am

    Subscribing to a musician

    It's kind of interesting to read about subscriptions not being a good business model when musicians are being told subscriptions might work for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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