Subscription Hell

Just finished reading The Economist’s series of articles about the decline of journalism and various revenue models. It got me thinking – first about online news and then about cable TV, with some thoughts about our subscription fee culture. See Bulletins from the future.

The pay wall approach seems to be the revenue model of choice for online news, although it’s certainly not the ultimate solution. Various models have appeared – annual or monthly fee, free if you also subscribe to the hard copy edition. And each paper is independently pricing its offerings.

I have subscribed to none of them that require payment. Call me frugal and irritated.

And it’s not just online news – it’s also cable TV and subscription fees for GPS devices, data access fees for smart phones, subscription fees for everything from home security to social networking.

One of the things that rankles me about cable TV is that you have to buy a prepackaged selection of 200 channels rather than the 7 channels you always watch. So I get programs about catching Alaskan crabs, building motorcycles, crafting weapons, tattoo parlors, in addition to the travel channels, food/cooking channels, and cable news that I want to watch.

I’ve heard the argument that it just wouldn’t pay to allow subscribers to select only the channels they want to watch or that the subscription would be exorbitant. Can we tailor this model, however, for access to online news?

I propose a monthly fee that would cover the cost of subscribing to a given number of online media selected by the reader/consumer. I’d choose the NYT, Boston Globe, The Economist to start. Currently I get home delivery of the Globe and have access to the online version; I do not subscribe to the NYT and my access is, thus, limited to 20 articles/month. The Economist charges over $100 for online access.

My online readers’ fees would be consolidated in one bucket with one password, one credit card charge. The various media providers could reduce their individual fees by being relieved of some overhead of managing those subscriptions. If I added/removed online options, the fee would be adjusted, but always at a reduced amount than if I subscribed to each individually.

I’ve wanted a similar service offering like this for credit cards – wouldn’t it be wonderful to consolidate all your credit card accounts on a single card, to which you could add or remove accounts? One plastic card to carry instead of the loaf of cards in many wallets. The credit card companies don’t like this idea because they would lose their branding identity.

So this is my current screed. Am I wandering around in left field with this posting? Am I such a Luddite that I’m unaware of existing services that do exactly what I propose? Feedback is appreciated.

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1 comment so far

  1. C R Krieger on

    I hear you.  My choice of newspapers might vary, but I know exactly what you are saying.  (I would go with The [Lowell] Sun, the IHT and The Washington Post.

    It is the password thing that would be the real improvement.  I know that security is increased by a variety of passwords, but it is also decreased by the need to write them all down, since the wide variety makes it impossible for any but the gifted few to remember them all.

    Regards  —  Cliff


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