An Open Letter to the subscription-based publishing community:
For the record, I’ve written essentially this same message to two or three digital content providers of note, to no discernible effect. But I believe I’m right, and I ask you to hear me out, so I’m putting extra effort into it this time.
In this day and age, online meccas like Twitter, Facebook, Apple News and other news aggregators, etc., have the power to place your digital content immediately at the fingertips of people around the globe on a story-by-story basis, or even a quote-by-quote or paragraph-by-paragraph basis, depending on their own messaging and perspective.
This is a very different scenario from that of a typical journal, magazine or newspaper, in which you are providing a wide array of subject matter, packaged with a viewpoint that your subscribers endorse and follow. You are curating their experience of these subject areas. In such a framework, your typical subscription rates are reasonable.
In the former case, however, you are not the curators. You are an “also click here” content provider. A respected one, yes. But there are many! Foreign Affairs, New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Crain’s, the Economist; even Rolling Stone, Harper’s, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Times of London… the list goes on.
Is it truly your expectation that in order to be well-informed, a person should have to pay the standard subscription rates for each of these publications, to access the a la carte content they seek?
The music recording industry, I think, has done a better job of grappling with these issues. The concept of the “album equivalent unit” is their solution. (For more on this, see for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Album-equivalent_unit.) The industry realized that as album sales continued to decline, in favor of downloadable content and streaming services, they needed to completely revise their business model. This, I think, is what the publishing industry needs to do as well.
It’s fine that you offer several articles per month for free. But the next rung up the ladder is a $120 – $200 per year commitment for a subscription. That’s much too high. A great number of people are simply not going to be able to afford that, if they need to cough that up for every publication they wish to explore. So we’re stuck with our 3 articles per month, and the rest, we fill in with either junk content, or content of highly suspect provenance, or we just let it go entirely.
There has to be a middle ground. There has to be a subscription level for those, like me, who most typically arrive at your content’s doorway by reference from other sources, and who may or may not choose to click on yours based on whether we’ve used up our free article count, whether similar content is available elsewhere, etc. I think $2 to $5 per month for 10-25 articles, would be sustainable for a typical online consumer. If I could read that many articles, in each of the publications I mentioned, say, for a combined outlay of $20-$30 per month, then that is clearly something I would consider, and could afford.
As it stands, I will continue to grouse about the lack of access, and I’ll maintain the couple of subscriptions that I do have. But you have to see that the “information age” we all imagined at its inception was clearly not where we have actually landed in its implementation today. I think we can do much better, and I think you, the publishers, can help a great deal by making your content more reasonably available to those who wish to see it.
New York City