Could the Netflix approach save newspapers?

The Newsroom is my favorite show on television. I've watched since week one. This, despite the fact that I do not have HBO. No, like many other young people who want to see HBO's quality programming, I download it illegally on a weekly basis. I have yet to, like a few of my more-advanced peers, figure out how to do so automatically but manually torrenting it each week is much-preferred to paying for a basic cable package to start and then adding on whatever bundle includes HBO.

But this isn't a rant on the void of nonsense that is cable programming, instead an anecdote intended to underscore the point that if people are going to pay for something, they want value. They don't want to be forced into purchasing something above the price they deem it to be worth, especially in today's world when there are so many alternatives available.

When we look at how this applies to newspapers, readers have an opportunity to go elsewhere instead of buying the many digital subscription options newspapers are throwing out nowadays. $10-20/month for one newspaper? Really? No, I'll rely on the free alternatives—all the other newspapers and the secondary analysis of blogs and other outlets.

Like I've chosen previously with Netflix Instant and Spotify (dear Lord is it great), I'm not looking to pay for something just because it's a more legal alternative, so I can feel better about myself. No, I will pay for something when it's the best option available.

Could a better alternative—one that actually helps newspapers—soon be on the horizon? An app recently launched on the iPad gives me hope. That application, Next Issue, is described as such: "All the magazines you love. All in one app. All yours for one low price." Seems pretty solid, especially when you check out the full list and the price: $9.99/month for a regular subscription and $14.99/month for a premium one (getting you the weekly magazines, like Sports Illustrated and People).But is it worth it? Will people by in? Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent offers her thoughts:

But will they find unlimited subscriptions worth the fee? It probably depends on how much they’re paying for magazine subscriptions now, whether they’re willing to shift the money they’re paying from print to digital, how much they value a print subscription, how much they want to read popular magazines in general versus specific titles, and whether Next Issue has the titles they want.

There's certainly some truth to this. But based on my personal use (yeah, can't apply this to everyone), I'm not sure it's entirely true. Sometime around a year ago, I decided to purchase Spotify premium. A little less than $10/month for pretty much all the music, whenever, saveable to my devices. This money wasn't specifically allocated from someplace else; I didn't have an existing music budget. The last time I paid for music was when I ran out to Target in 2007 to buy Kanye West's Graduation because I thought 50 Cent might actually hold up his end of the deal and retire if 'Ye outsold him. Now I throw down money every single month and have no regrets in doing so.

I'm already consuming content from the publications in Next Issue, and in a hypothetical newspaper version. If there's a better way to go about something I'm already doing, then I will pay for it. So, what would make a newspaper version "worth it"?

  • First off, like with Next Issue, this is only going to work if a number of the largest newspaper companies ban together on this. It's only going to work if there's a high enough level of demand, and there's only going to be a high enough level of demand if the content's good enough.
  • Second, this price needs to be reasonable, in the $10-$20/month range. A complete New York Times digital subscription costs $35/month. Netflix costs $7.99/month, for an absurd amount of content delivered directly to me. Again, Spotify is $9.99 for almost all the music out there delivered directly to me. I understand constantly producing content comes with a cost but this needs to be reasonable.
  • It has to be on the iPad, and it has to look awesome—of course. Full of imagery, and easy to swipe through. Easier said than done, but Flipboard is the model we're going for here. 
  • These next two are closely associated, but it must be personalized. I'm not looking for a digital newstand, where I bounce from paper to paper. I must have the option to browse by paper and by subject. I want want all the best sports news from that morning's papers, and all the best technology news at my fingertips. I want it to learn what I like and what I don't. The idea is familiar to those who use Zite. It hasn't been perfected yet, but the concept is on its way. "Pandora for content," for those who haven't gotten the picture already.
  • Finally, it must be socially aware. No, I'm not talking about "look we're social!" share buttons and widgets, I want it to know what's being discussed among my social connections, and what's being discussed by the influencers in the subject I'm looking for information on—and that's what I want to see. Flipboard attempts to accomplish this, but it isn't all the way there.

I understand that this is a lot to ask for, from the technological aspects (and investments) to asking backwards-thinking newspaper companies to work together, but the work could be done from the outside as well. iTunes wasn't a perfect solution for record companies, but I'm sure they're still glad Steve Jobs came along. We're reading more news than ever before. There's obviously a demand for content, and if you can find a way to deliver it to me even better than those who are already doing it, there's money to be made and—potentially—an industry to be saved. 

 

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