THE BLOG

When Will We Break Down the Media Pay Walls?

19/11/2014 11:15 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Everyone hates pay walls, except the publishers who can see no other way to earn from their content. But there is no agreement across the industry on how to earn from news and journalism.

Some publishers give away their content free, like the Huffington Post or The Guardian. Some insist on only being available to subscribers, like The Times or FT. Who can be right when all across the world publishers are facing the same dilemma.

Giving content away is a very old strategy. Free newspapers can charge more to advertisers and other partners if the circulation is large. This model has simply moved online and gone global. The Guardian is no longer just focused on getting readers in the UK; they are aiming to be the liberal left-of-centre news source for the entire world. The Daily Mail is similarly focused on being the source of all celebrity gossip and news - if you can call that news.

But it's hard to see where the industry is headed when figures like Rupert Murdoch insist on charging - forcing a customer who may only have an interest in a single story to pay for a subscription to the paper.

Pay walls also affect the social nature of news today. I never share anything from The Times now because I know that only Times subscribers can read the stories. I used to like that paper, but stopped reading when the pay wall went up. The FT selects some of their stories and makes them free, so they can share stories on Twitter and Facebook.

Good journalism is expensive and has to be paid for somehow - this is a given. However, there must surely be a better way to finance this business. Something between giving everything away free and insisting that every reader takes out a subscription.

A new app called Blendle was launched recently in The Netherlands. It offers a news feed from several journals and the user can pay to read each article rather than needing to subscribe to a journal for a month. If an article was not what the reader expected then they can have the money they spent reading it refunded.

The New York Times and Axel Springer have both invested in Blendle so it has serious backers. A recent $3.8m cash injection from these backers is going to be spent on a global push for the app - they need to create an English language version for it to truly go global.

I like the Blendle concept. It's a great idea and is something I have talked about for years - paying for news by the story. But Blendle sounds very expensive to me, with prices at around 20 to 30 Euro cents per story.

Think about how much a regular newspaper costs and how many stories are contained? Of course it changes each day, but with the Times at £1.20 and containing maybe 80 pages and a couple of stories on page that's about 0.75p a story

If Blendle offered news that was paid for at a price that is low - say a penny a story - and the cash went to the publishers then it would be a friction-free way to read the news and pay for the content.

Of course, with many news sources being entirely free, Blendle would have a tough job making people pay for commodity news. If I want to read about an earthquake and AP or Reuters are publishing the information free then why would I pay - even just a penny?

But if the price is low enough then it may lead to an end to the era of free online news. If almost every publisher supports a platform such as Blendle then they could expect a large audience for their content - and payment too.

But the real question is why the Internet behemoths Facebook and Google are sitting back and just allowing app developers to reshape the global media business?

If Facebook created a news app that featured news from the biggest publishers on the planet, charging by each individual story so the publishers are also getting paid, and integrating social news sharing into the process then news would be entirely transformed.

Will it happen? I'm sure they are already working on it.