Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - premium, freemium & the dreaded app

In Thursday meander through the blogging world, I mentioned News Ltd's plans to introduce pay for view to the Australian. The links I gave in that post will provide further information to those interested. Since then, the Australian has launched its new web site, with digital subscription launching 24 October.

As I noted in my post, my immediate interest lay in its likely impact on blogging and on my blogging in particular.

On first impression, I don't like the new web site. I am a fast reader and indeed rely on that speed. I used to be able to quick scan the site, whereas the new site slows me down. In fairness, once you dig inside it gets better, but I still don't think that it's brilliant.

Something of the same issue comes up with the new mobile and magazine formats within blogging. I don't like them because they slow me down. 

However, my big problem is the expected one: what content will be free in circumstances where the "premium" content line can shift? I try to be punctilious in not copying in full and in providing links, but there is not much point in all that if readers cannot then access the material.

I use the Australian a fair bit because its reporting is strong in certain areas. The other main metropolitan daily I read on a regular basis is the Sydney Morning Herald. This, too, is going into a subscription mode, with an iPad app already under trial. 

In a comment on Belshaw's World - caught between a tweet and a print place, the Armidale Express's Janene Carey wondered if some bundling of SMH and Express might not meet my needs for certain types of content. That comment raised a new issue in my mind.

I read a lot of media online and for different reasons. I scan media from other countries to try to get a broader perspective. I scan the major Australian media outlets for national or state material. I also scan newspapers across New England to try to provide a broader New England perspective. I use the media as a source of leads, often following through to get the original source material. I am interested in reporting as reporting.

While my writing reflects my own idiosyncratic interests, while I do not pretend to be a reporter as such, I do try to add a measure of value through my analysis, consolidations and commentary. Access to a diversity or reporting is central to that. This becomes more difficult in a world of pay. I could not afford, for example, to take out a subscription to every newspaper in New England, let alone all the other outlets I look at.

The world will not end tomorrow, but the trend and consequent problems are clear.

  Still musing, another problem from my perspective is the proliferation of delivery mechanisms and outlets and the way they affect writing and reading. I mentioned that I didn't like the new mobile and magazine formats within blogging because they slowed my reading down.

The hardware plus delivery systems that can be used to access material continue to proliferate. Take a train trip in Sydney during peak hour and just watch. You will see half a dozen different pieces of hardware in use, each with its particular characteristics. At a personal level I am quite out of touch. I have chosen consciously not to attempt to understand them all, nor to tailor my writing to suit them. It's just too hard!

This is starting to take me in new directions and I have other things to do today. Time to stop.   


Winton Bates said...

I think there is a lot to be said for charging for on-line access to media provided the charge is lower than for a subscription to the print edition. However, I am upset with the system adopted by the Australian Financial Review where the charge for on-line access is about $30 a month higher that for the print edition. What annoys most is that my subscription to the print edition doesn't even entitle me to access to the online edition when I am away from home and it doesn't allow me to search the on-line archive.

I have subscibed to the AFR for about 40 years, but I am now starting to wonder whether I can live without it. Peter Ruehl's column was worth paying a lot for, but he is no longer with us. Laura Tingle's insights into the failings of the politicians and bureacrats in Canberra are excellent, but I am starting to wonder whether I really want to know about that stuff - its too depressing. Alan Mitchell's columns on economic policy are also excellent in my view - but there isn't really much point reading them because the views he puts are usually fairly close to my own. The editorials are highly variable quality. Unless the AFR manages to provide online access at a reasonable price, I think I might have to declare it a luxury that I can do without.

Do you still get the AFR, Jim?

Jim Belshaw said...

Not any more Winton, although I still but it from time to time. I still find it useful.

The pricing system that you describe sounds dumb. As a broad comment, I don't think that any of the papers have yet got their minds around the way different customers/readers work. Its not one group nor one market.

Winton Bates said...

Yes, it looks to me as though they haven't got their heads around the problem of how to charge different market segments.
It shouldn't be too hard to set up a range of different pricing arrangements to cater for people who want to read the whole paper regularly, those who want to read particular columns, those who want access to the archives and those who only want access to particular articles. I am wondering whether Fairfax management has actually looked at the issues and decided that their current pricing arrangement for the AFR is the best option for shareholders.

Jim Belshaw said...

Sensible comments. Winton. I don't know, although I could probably find out. I suspect that one problem is that they think of Fairfax in some uniform way, whereas each paper is different and the country papers in particular.

This links to the point I tried to make in my column re the Express, the difference between the local and expat market. The column was a short one, so its a little more complicated than that. Effectively you have two newspapers with the second forming the base for a local portal.

I bet you London to a brick that Fairfax is likely to apply a company wide solution or solutions. Perhaps a column at some point entitled maximising the value of the small.

Winton Bates said...

I am tempted to accept your wager, Jim. My main concern is whether you could deliver London if I win.

Greg Hywood seemed to me like a sensible person when he was a journalist. One would hope his experience in the commercial side of the business would make him even wiser. In any case he should know the business inside out - and that should make him wary of trying to apply a uniform company-wide solution to all the papers.

Hywood has been in the job now since February. I would have thought that would be enough time for him to get his head around the pricing issues, but other things (e.g. cost cutting) might have deserved priority.

In the case of the AFR, it is possible that Fairfax management might be just testing the market to see how much rent it is possible to collect from rusted-on readers of the AFR before they cancel their subscriptions becasue they feel 'ripped off' rather than rusted on.

Jim Belshaw said...

Perhaps delivering London would be difficult!

You may be right on Greg. I hope that you are not right on the FR approach.

If you look at what Jim Barber is doing at UNE at the moment, you will get a feel for just how people can go wrong with technology!

A major problem with biggish organisations is that its simply easier to follow a standardised approach. I get no feel at all from the Express that there is much of a bottom up approach, and that's what's needed to my mind.

Evan said...

The SMH app is weird - they are going to ask you to pay for it but it is like the daily paper and so has less content than the free website which has stuff going back several days.

I can't see people paying much for the Oz. I'd be interested to know whether the Fin is actually making money from the digital side of things. (I do think they are good on politics and provide some perspective and analysis of business that has more of the 'real world' feel than the ideological debates in the rest of the MSM (mainstream media).

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting comment on the SMH app, Evan. That would appear to be a weakness.

No idea how much the FR makes. Would be interesting to know. I also agree on their real world feel.