Skimming the headlines on Google News and other aggregators was one of my favourite ways to keep up with the news. I liked searching for a topic and getting the take on it from different newspapers.
More paywalls have popped up lately, however, and I’ve curtailed my browsing substantially. A few websites let me proceed after viewing an ad or answering a survey. A few others give me a fixed number of free articles a month, then stop showing me stories. I wish Google could identify them ahead of time so I could be a little more choosy on which stories I click on.
I understand that media organizations need to find new ways to monetize. I do. I don’t begrudge them that at all. But as my previous paywall-free browsing has taught me, there are just so many sources out there. I simply can’t afford to support them all. I may be persuaded, if the value was there, to pony up for a local newspaper, or even for something like the Washington Post. But I’m finding that if I browse for a major story, I can run up on usage limits even for small papers in faraway places whose content would otherwise never be on my radar. And even if that content was good and worth paying for, I can’t afford to do it for every newspaper in North America.
So what we need, I think, is an Amazon for newspapers. It would centralize—and monetize—content across multiple providers, from one single website. Maybe there could be subscription plans for all-access, or five stories a day, or ten a day or whatever. And all stories on the service would be democratically equal, regardless of the source from which they originated. The central site would allow news junkies to read—and pay for—content from hundreds of places, under the convenience of one single subscription plan.
The alternative is just chaos. I’m not paying for 100 different newspapers. I’m just not. So when I hit a paywall limit, I simply close my browser and stop reading news. I have a few local sources I check in with daily, and other than that, I read just the headlines. It’s not a winning proposition for me, and I don’t imagine it much benefits these far-flung media sources I’m now ignoring, either. They count on discoverability. They count on new readers being impressed enough by what they do discover that they’ll pay. But what they don’t account for is the sheer quantity of scale. There is so much out there. I can’t pay everyone. But I could pay for one subscription, which everyone pools into. If only there were a way.
Image credit: Here. Actually that’s a shot of discarded printed newspapers. The fate of newspapers as institutions if they don’t adapt?