Beyond Paywalls: A Note To Subscribers

We have been thinking for some time at The Browser about the advance of paywalls. They are good in principle: Publishers need revenues in order to publish good writing, and business models driven by advertising lead very quickly to bad writing. Payment for content is the answer. But it seems hard on most readers to require a monthly or yearly subscription in order to read a particular article. 

Our solution is to launch a service enabling readers to pay to read newspaper and magazine articles that are published behind paywalls. The reader can pay to read a single article without having to buy a monthly or yearly subscription to the publication. We have called the service 1Pass.

Our aim is to make 1Pass an attractive sales channel for any reputable publisher. We have been lucky enough to start at the top, with an agreement to offer selected articles from the Financial Times. We expect to add more publications soon. 

We hope Browser subscribers will sympathise with the 1Pass project. For the time being there is no need to take any action. Whenever we offer an FT article for sale through 1Pass, we will also provide it free to Browser subscribers. 

We have also made agreements with The Economist and Foreign Affairs, so that we can republish selected articles from these publications for Browser subscribers to read.

The result is that we have a new section on The Browser home page in which we offer our choice of articles from the Financial Times (a new article each weekday); from The Economist (a new article each week); and from Foreign Affairs (three articles each month). 

It’s important to stress that we are choosing the articles on merit. This is not a marketing deal in which the publications pay The Browser to feature particular articles; it is a syndication deal in which The Browser pays the publishers for the right to offer selected articles to our subscribers.

I would expect to include many of these articles in my daily recommendations. But there is no particular rule here. I will continue to read and recommend on merit.

In practical terms:

— If you are logged in to The Browser website, when you click on a recommended article from the Financial Times, The Economist or Foreign Affairs, you should be able to read the full text of the article, republished on The Browser. If you are taken to the publisher’s website, then you are probably not logged in.

— The same applies if you click on a link in the daily email. If you are logged in to The Browser, you should be able to read the full text of the article, republished on The Browser. If you are taken to the publisher’s website; or taken to a page on The Browser that contains only the first paragraph of the recommended article; then you are probably not logged in.

We hope that 1Pass will grow into a larger business, allowing publishers to sell individual articles directly from their own websites. That is why we have given it a separate name. If you’d like to find out more about 1Pass, please do have a look at the starter website — 1Pass.me — and tell us what you think.

    

Speculations & Jihad

Today I added to my RSS feed: Victor Niederhoffer’s Daily Speculations. First recommended to me by Megan McArdle, who I think had been to a libertarian salon hosted by Niederhoffer a decade ago.

A piece that I didn’t post on The Browser, but which did give me pause for thought: The Question Of Theodicy And Jihad. I admired the discussion of violence and the Quran, but I wanted more follow-through.

Paid Content

We are thrilled to say that we can now offer the full text of paywalled content from The Economist and the Financial Times on The Browser. These offerings complement the full-yet articles from Foreign Affairs that we have been offering in recent months.

We are not being paid to carry this content; on the contrary, we select the articles ourselves, and we pay publishers for the right to carry them on The Browser. 

This is the start of our response to the prevalence of paywalls, which have become almost universal among larger publishers. These paywalls are often metered — the casual visitor gets one or more articles free each week or month before being pressed to subscribe. But I don’t feel comfortable recommending articles that many subscribers will be unable to read; and I feel that in the case of the particular publications with which we now have contracts — the Financial Times, The Economist, Foreign Affairs — a regular section of content will be a real benefit to our subscribers.

We intend that visitors to The Browser who are not subscribers to The Browser will be able to buy the individual paywalled articles that we recommend, using our new single-article sales platform, which we are calling 1Pass. So far, only articles from the Financial Times are available through 1Pass; but that’s the best possible start, and we hope to add more publications shortly.

A Note To Our Newsletter Readers

News from The Browser:

1 We’ve added a new option for reading The Browser offline. If you have an account with Pocket (http://getpocket.com), you can choose to have all the articles recommended in The Browser Daily Newsletter sent automatically as full text to your Pocket queue. To activate this option, log in to The Browser website (http://thebrowser.com); click the “preferences” link at the top; then, on your Preferences page, under “automatic read-later services”, enable “auto-posting to Pocket”. If you don’t have an account with Pocket, do consider opening one. Everything about it is free and, in our experience, amazingly neat and useful.

2 We’ve redesigned our web site, at http://thebrowser.com. If you haven’t visited for a while, please do drop in and tell us what you think. While you are there, you might want to click through to the Culture and Tech supplements; and to FYI, the experimental page on which we review paywalled content.

3 If you want to comment on anything in or about The Browser, please do you use the Feedback button on the website (http://thebrowser.com/feedback/). By default, your comment will be seen by other subscribers. So it’s a good place to make points about the site that you think might be of interest to others; or to comment on the substance of articles that we’ve recommended; or to recommend articles that we might have missed.

A Golden Age For Paid Content

It’s coming, if publishers can get three things right.

Readers will pay for content online so long as three conditions are met:

1 The content is worth paying for.
2 The price is low.
3 The transaction is easy.

There are some trade-offs within those criteria. If you have an overwhelming need for a particular channel of content — the Financial Times, say, or The Economist — then you will accept a relatively high price, and quite a lot of friction in the process of subscribing.

But for paid content to be the rule rather than the exception, publishers need to deliver on all three criteria at once.

Here’s how it can happen.

There’s no particular problem or mystery associated with providing content worth paying for. Publishers do it all the time. What’s amazing is how much good writing is currently available for free. For example, I’d certainly pay to read the NYR Blog, provided that the price was right and the transaction was easy.

Getting to the right price is more of an issue. Publishers think in terms of one-to-many relations with their readers, and price accordingly; but readers want a one-to-many relationship with publishers. Each publisher wants to sell one subscription to every reader for $60 a year; but each reader would much rather buy ten subscriptions to ten publications for $6 a year each.

The customer is always right. With much lower prices and much bigger volumes, everyone would be better off.

Frictionless purchasing is getting closer, but it’s not evenly distributed.

You have it once you get inside the closed systems of the Kindle and the iTunes store — and the effect of it is clear and liberating. You sample more, you buy more. To return to the case of the NYR Blog, I’m 90% sure I’d pay $1 a month to read that content, even if I had to go through PayPal to do so. But I’m 100% sure I’d pay $1 a month to read it if I was buying with a single click on my Kindle, and 90% sure I’d pay $2.

But how to make frictionless transactions for individual pieces of content outside the closed systems? We need the internet equivalent of a Metro Card (in London: an Oyster Card), which is to say, a pass that the reader can preload with so many prepaid page views — say 100 page views for $10 — and then use to access individual pieces of paid content on any participating publisher’s website.

When we can meet all three criteria — quality content, low pricing, frictionless purchasing — we can do for paid content what app stores have done for software. Remember when software in a box used to cost $100, and you might buy a couple of things a year that you really needed? Now it costs $1 and you buy it on impulse.

We’re going to get there, even if the prepaid pass takes — I would guess — another year or two to arrive and scale. For the past five years or so we’ve been in a golden age of free content. Now we’re moving into a golden age of paid content, and that’s going to be even better.

+++++++++++++
(first published in medium.com, 24th July 2013)

Log in to The Browser

Subscribe to The Browser

Welcome to The Browser!

The Browser

Sections

Share via email

Search The Browser

Email Sent

About paid content