In the race to dominate media consumers’ attention, data, and relationships, technology companies have been closely following the shift to consumer revenue models. Reportedly, Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and others are working on new subscription bundles that include movies and TV shows, music, podcasts, books, and news. Platforms have started to approach publishers about joining.

At the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit 2.0 on Thursday afternoon, the question of the past decade was pondered: to collaborate or to compete? What lessons did publishers draw from the encounters with Facebook and Google?

Consider just a couple of the news industry headlines today:

“Google starts ‘subscriptions lab’ for local publishers to develop paid content,” reports Digiday.

“New Paid Apple News Service Said to Feature Wall Street Journal,” notes The New York Times’ technology section.

At the exact moment those stories hit, 285 media executives assembled from 32 countries in Stockholm were discussing their desperate need to increase reader revenue, to replace lost advertising and print readership, by squeezing every possible opportunity out of fledgling digital subscriptions programmes.

So the further evidence that major tech and social platforms are increasingly moving in on the subscription economy was not received well here, to say the least. Reaction at INMA’s second-annual subscriptions summit ranged from resigned acceptance to adamant rejection.

Kjersti Thornéus of Schibsted talks about tech companies and user revenue at the INMA Media Subscription Week.
Kjersti Thornéus of Schibsted talks about tech companies and user revenue at the INMA Media Subscription Week.

“I find it interesting that it used to be the tech companies made a big deal about users paying for services with their data,” said Kjersti Thornéus, product director for consumer business at the Oslo-based international publisher Schibsted News Media. “Then media comes in to develop user revenue. And now the tech giants are also moving into this consumer space.”

The closing panel of day one of the summet focused predominantly on the pros and cons of working with Apple, Google, Facebook, and other such platforms. Special ire was reserved for the new Apple News, which intends to keep 30% of any subscriptions booked through its portal.

“The simple answer, and I think no one in the audience is going to like this answer, is that there is no simple answer,” said Yasmin Namini, digital media consultant and former chief consumer officer at The New York Times. “If you’re in a place where you need to build audience and then engagement and then eventually subscriptions, then being very active in social media is a good place to be.”

Digital media consultant Yasmin Namini says there is no simple answer when it comes to technology companies barging into user revenue.
Digital media consultant Yasmin Namini says there is no simple answer when it comes to technology companies barging into user revenue.

“On the other hand,” she added, “if you have a huge audience like many of the globals have, then you’re in a position to be a tougher negotiator with the Apples of the world. Seventy percent of something is better than 100% of zero.”

Panelist Peter Wolodarski, editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter, a Bonnier-owned daily published from Stockholm, noted that his company agonised several years ago over a content pact with a significant Swedish social media platform. In the end, it turned out to be a very good development for his company.

“It’s not Google and Facebook that have created problems for the business,” Wolodarski said. “The problem is that we had the wrong model for our business.”

Peter Wolodarski urged INMA members to consider if newspapers have adopted the wrong business strategy when it comes to reader revenue.
Peter Wolodarski urged INMA members to consider if newspapers have adopted the wrong business strategy when it comes to reader revenue.

He added, “The unique thing we are providing our readers and we are charging our readers for is our journalism. A lot of newspapers have the wrong strategy.” They are thinking they are about distribution rather than content.

“When you know your strategy, it’s much easier to answer the question you’re asking: Is it right to work with a platform or not?”