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.