A couple of posts ago, while pondering micropayments, I wrote “If my time at the BBC has taught me anything, it’s that ideas are worthless — it’s working examples that really get you somewhere”. Since then, a friend emailed me, saying that she thinks the problem with micropayments is that people don’t know see how they fit in. They don’t see how people — the punters — will react to suddenly being told to pay for something that used to be free.
I believe it can be done.
It’s not a case of just throwing up subscription walls, slapping readers in the face with a log-in screen that says “Join now and get 40% off at Debenhams”. We need to be inventive. Considering how creative journalism is, the lack of creative thinking with payments (and the web in general) is baffling. What are we afraid of? Innovation? Profit?
So I’d like to get the ball rolling. Here are 20 suggestions for adding micropayments to a newspaper website. The ideas cover promotion, implementation and, for want of a better phrase, damange limitation. I’m going to divide them up into categories depending on the ‘type’ of person.
Mr Jones the Newspaper Buyer, 53
1. Mr Jones appreciates online treats after buying his newspaper
Mr Jones goes out and buys The Times. He spends 90p. Mr Jones reads The Times on his way to work, and stuffs it in his bag when he’s done. At work, he checks the newspaper online; but hang on — he can’t access the articles. Under the new micropayment scheme he’s forced to pay again. Right? Wrong. In Mr Jones’ paper, he has a voucher. On that voucher is a unique code that can be used once — and only once — to access the day’s content online. He can do this for just 30p — that’s a third of the normal price. For £1.20, Mr Jones has got the print product and all the additional online extras too. Mr Jones is happy.
2. Mr Jones wants to subscribe (Thank you Mr Jones!)
Subscriptions are on the decline, yes, but there are still core subscription readers who will be around for some while yet. Mr Jones is one of them. If he wanted to subscribe to The Times he would have to pay £5.50 per week. Mr Jones should be offered the newspaper plus all the brilliant web content for £6.50 a week. Five days of web goodness for just £1. “That’s lovely,” says Mr Jones.
3. If there’s one thing Mr Jones enjoys more than cricket, it’s reading about cricket
It’s test match season — and if there’s one thing Mr Jones loves, it’s settling down to watch the days play at Lords. In a perfect world, he’d be able to spend his days watching the willow. But sadly he has to resort to following the action online. No problem, though, because for £1, Mr Jones gets full coverage from the test: A column from Michael Atherton, a podcast with Geoffrey Boycott, an interactive scoreboard. Typical things like match reports and liveblogs will still be free — the casual cricket fan won’t pay. But for people like Mr Jones, all this great coverage is really enjoyable.
4. Mr Jones is interested in politics
Between work, cricket and spending time with his lovely wife, Mr Jones doesn’t have much time for anything else. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to know what’s going on in the world of politics. For 50p a week, The Times will send him a politics digest t0 his inbox once a day from their team at Westminster. If he likes it, he can subscribe for £1.50 a month — saving 50p as he goes.
5. Mr Jones is delighted with his theatre vouchers, and he knows which show to see
So many shows, so little time. Or maybe, so little money. The good news for Mr Jones is that to go alongside the micropayment relaunch, The Times has also launched its special interactive theatre guide. Mr Jones knows what’s on, at what time, and how good it is. The guide costs 50p per week — but at the end of each month he’ll get some vouchers to print off and enjoy. Money well spent Mr Jones!
Pete the student, 20
6. Pete gets £5 of free credit every month
Pete may be eating moudly bread and sleeping in grubby sheets, but he still likes to keep up to date. Handy, then, that he gets £5 free credit to spend on newspapers online each month. He can spend it as he chooses. On any newspaper. Just one of the perks of being a National Union of Students member.
7. Pete thinks Flight of the Conchords are awesome
Which means he is pleased to discover the feature about the new series on the website. He reads it. It’s free. But for an exclusive audio clip of Bret and Jemaine talking about the show, he can pay 20p. If Bret and Jemaine are feeling exceedingly generous, their live track will cost Pete 50p — but he can download it to keep.
8. Pete really loves music
Pete is getting fed up of having to buy clips from his favourite bands individually each time. Those 50p installments soon add up for him. For £5 a month, Pete can download clips, listen to podcasts, see exclusive video interviews on all all online newspaper sites. Not just one. The income is distributed to newspapers depending on which content he chooses.
9. Pete supports Chelsea
Don’t blame Pete, it’s not his fault. But we shouldn’t begrudge him the enjoyment of knowing about his club. Mr Jones subscribed to the test match, but Pete just wants to know about Chelsea. That’ll cost him 80p a week. For that money he’ll get daily news digests, exclusive interviews, features, fan community involvement: all sorts.
Now while Pete is a bit of a grubby glory hunter, he still follows his local team: Shrewsbury Town. He can follow them as well and, because he already subscribes to Chelsea, the second team only costs him 20p per week.
10. Pete wants to share his favourite articles with his friends
Chelsea thump Aston Villa 4-0? Well we have some celebrating to do! Pete can send the interview with 4 goal hero Didier Drogba to his Chelsea-supporting pal Dean. Dean, subsequently, signs up to the newspaper service. “How does this work then?” he asks.
11. It’s dissertation time — get the archive out!
If Pete’s lucky, his university will give him access to Lexis Nexis, a brilliant archive of newspaper articles. Problem is, not all newspapers are included. Searching is tricky, and it can be quite buggy. For £5 — a one off, he won’t use it again — he has full access to the online and offline archives for all UK newspapers (or, indeed, the world’s newspapers!). If he’s struggling, all consecutive weeks of archive use will just cost him an extra quid. Pete is thankful — his dissertation is bloody brilliant.
Karen the stay-at-home mum, 35
12. Karen cares about her childrens’ education…
Karen wants to know everything there is to know about schooling and education. She wants league tables, inspection reports and real-life case studies. Does she have time to sift through the paper every day? No way! For £1 a week, Karen recieves a weekly digest of the important stories of the week in education. If she buys a newspaper on Sunday, she can use a voucher to get this digest for 50p. Again, if she subscribes for a week, she gets a discount.
13. …But that’s not all she’s in to
Education is important, yes, but Karen would get bored (and probably quite depressed). So as part of a bundle offer (think Sky subscription packages) Karen can choose two other sectors to get digests for — for just £1.50 per week. That’s less than half price!
14. Loose Women — let’s go online
(for my non-UK readers, Loose Women is a daytime chat show with a panel of four or so middle-aged women.)
Karen likes to get right stuck in with Loose Women when it’s on. Sure, they’re whiny, and she can’t stand one of them, but she likes the relevance and indeed the fun the show brings. For 20p, Karen can join in with the online webchat each day. She chats about the issues covered in the show and has fun with other likeminded people, all from the comfort of her home.
15. Karen is an avid reader, but hasn’t got time for a book club
Before they moved onto that strange digital channel, Karen really loved the Richard and Judy book club. It made the tricky task of picking the wheat from the chaff much easier. For £1 a week, Karen can subscribe to the newspaper book club. The literary editor will preside over the suggestions, and subscribers will get money off the featured titles. Every week, a distinguished author will be on hand with interviews, podcasts or webchats.
Phil the news junkie, 26
16. Phil wants to be up-to-date, all the time
Phil can’t get enough news. He always likes to be the first to know. He follows all the social media services, but what he’d really appreciate is a human filter. For £1 a week, Phil gets access to the human-powered breaking news wire. The wire editor’s job is to filter meaningful tweets, images, links and news snippets and bring them to Phil. The editor is doing the leg work so Phil doesn’t have to.
17. Phil knows he is likely to spend a lot online, so he deserves bulk discounts
Each month, Phil is spending around £20 on micropayments. That sure is a lot! His loyalty should be rewarded. If he adds his newspaper credit in chunks of £20, he gets £5, absolutely free.
18. Phil treats his newspaper credits like an Oyster Card
If you spend more than a certain amount on an Oyster Card in one single day, any trips for the rest of that day are included in that price. Nifty. Likewise, when Phil spends a lot of time reading one particular newspaper, he could end up spending the same amount as the cover price. If this is to happen, Phil automatically unlocks the rest of the ‘paid’ content for that day. Lucky Phil!
19. Phil spends SO much, he’s now a priority member
Phil is really valued by newspapers. He spends a lot. So, whenever newspapers are promoting a special event, or book, or film… Phil is the first to know. And Phil gets first refusal.
20. Phil knows a big story when he sees one
Phil is shocked at the recent revelations revealed by the Daily Telegraph about MPs expenses. He wants to know everything about it. Fortunately, for £1.50, Phil has access to all articles relating to the expenses issue. All analysis, commentary and opinion is free for him to enjoy and digest.
Are these ideas the finished product? No, clearly not. But from what I can find its a pretty extensive bunch of thoughts – and I’d love to see what others can come up with too.
The important bit: What we DON’T charge for
I’m going to try and nip one of the inevitable criticisms of these ideas in the bud straight away. “Why would you pay if you can get the news somewhere else?” Simple: Because what we’re charging for will be unique. You don’t charge for the story — you charge for its valuable extras. You don’t charge for the written interview, you charge for the associated audio clip. In other words, if you site is the only place you can get this information, then that’s when you can charge.
Easy-to-remember rule: If it would go on the Google News frontpage, it should be free.
We also need to know how sites adopting micropayments would fit into the link economy. In particular, what do we do with blogs? Simple: we leave them as they are. Blogs can act as traffic vacuums. By linking here and there, appearing on feeds, getting involved, blogs can keep newspapers involved socially, while at the same time drawing new readers to the paid-for content.
Outdated ideas we need to dismiss
The notion of ‘all or nothing’ subscription walls is outdated and, quite frankly, ridiculous. When someone clicks on an article and is greeted with a message saying they must take out a monthly subscription, their mental response is “But I only wanted to read that one article!”. Just like small top-ups brought mobile to the masses, micropayments can bring paid online content to the masses too.
Loyalty in news no longer exists. If you think there is anyone out there who goes online, reads one source and one source only then you are deluded. Move on.
Crucial factors that must be in place
Do you go to a seperate newsagents each time you want to buy a different newspaper? Didn’t think so. They’re all in the same place, and all bought using the same currency. Let’s bring this way of thinking online. There must be one, and only one, system for paying for newspaper content online. You need to be able to sign in, and be signed in to every newspaper in the world. Only then can we succeed in monetizing the web.