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Newspapers and magazines: beyond digital subscriptions

When newspapers started to become available on the Web, the first decision - and one that has never been completely resolved - was whether the content should be free to view or available only by paid access.

 

The paid model that emerged initially was a paywall, with regular annual or monthly payments, enabling the whole newspaper to be read. For some newspapers that method has worked well, but this method doesn’t take into account the many other opportunities provided by online access.

There are more ways of accessing a newspaper than by a total subscription. The Economist has already been available in its entirety as a digital subscription, but it launched in addition a digest of condenses news in November 2014. Called not very imaginatively Espresso, it looks to be aimed at the Smartphone and tablet market. As The Economist’s own blog describes it, with a characteristic lack of humility,

 

Espresso brings you up to speed in just a couple of minutes at the start of your day. Displaying The Economist’s characteristic brevity, clarity and wit, it provides a concentrated, stimulating shot of global analysis that can be consumed quickly as part of your morning routine. Like the weekly, it is designed to be “finishable”—gathering up what you need to know into a compact package, with no need to click on links to get the full picture. Read it, and you’re ready for the day.

 

Described that way, it sounds better than sex.

The other benefit of a concise format published more frequently is that the Economist can start to make inroads against the daily newspapers.

As for concise format of articles, Metro proved with great emphasis that if you offered the public less rather than more, then many would be perfectly happy to have less.  The Economist is now trying the same approach for its own content. – but, crucially, they propose to charge for it. Espresso is free to subscribers of the print or digital edition; the new version will be £2.49 / $3.99 per month. The other big change is that while the Economist is a weekly publication, the new app will be daily.

The other alternative, pay per view, is typified by Blendle, a Dutch start-up, with clients including The New York Times and Axel Springer. Blendle provides software to a number of publishers, in return for a 30% royalty on the fees charged by the magazine or newspaper publisher Of course, the benefit with pay per view is to discover what print publications never can – precisely which article is read. The Blendle website is a small masterpiece of simple design. Then again, they have to concentrate on the website, because they don’t have any content of their own.

Personally, I don’t see any reason why a newspaper or magazine offer both the above approaches - a concise version, and a pay-per-view version. And of course, if the newspaper builds the app in-house, they will have the benefit of being able to integrate the pay-per-view app with the main publication website.