Does iTunes hold the paid content answer for media companies?


The evening unfolded something like this. Having both finished working later that planned, my husband and I decided to have dinner out rather that go home to try to figure it out.

You know the feeling, right? Long day. Just don’t want to deal with preparing a meal.

After the usual polite exchange of, “Where would you like to go?” amd “I don’t care, why don't you pick?” — you’ve all been there — we decided to expedite the meal by going to a local favourite buffet. Yes, a buffet. We’ve all been there, and we all feel the guilt, embarrassment, and shame.

Now, my husband is not a small guy and is nearly twice my size. That said, the buffet charges a flat rate, no matter how you might tip the scales. Even though we would each consume some similar items, some different items, the reality was that he would eat more that I would, or could.

That reality turned our dinner conversation to something that is on my mind every day lately.

Across the country, newspaper after newspaper has been implementing pay meters, paywalls, and even survey walls to make readers pay to get to the content. But this tactic is just a brief interlude while publishers try to figure out how to make money in the digital arena.

Digital advertising hasn’t taken us there yet, so now we are turning to our consumers.

Ultimately, the current version of pay meters is going to fail. Why? Because it doesn’t take into account that consumers no longer want to buy the whole album.

In the iTunes-driven world, people want to buy only the snippet that is important to them. But newspapers insist on taking the entire album into the digital world, and it is not going to work in the long term.

We will be missing revenue opportunities from people who want only to snack on our content.

The current pay meter concept at most newspapers assumes people will consume enough news to hit the pay meter and they will eventually be faced with the decision to buy. But, more importantly, it assumes they will want to buy the album once they get there. It also assumes they all want to consume the same quantity of news (just like the charge at the buffet restaurant).

Consumers are faced with an economic decision of whether they want to read enough articles to make the one-size-fits monthly access price worth it. Many people, when faced with this decision, will just turn elsewhere. They don’t want to buy the album or eat the same amount.

Consumers are individuals and want to be treated as such.

So, what should we do instead?

Consider looking at other payment options. Perhaps newspapers could charge by the article — employing the same concept as the music industry, in which people buy only one song if that’s all they want.

Let’s take it a step further and marry up social proof.

Should we consider changing the cost of an article as it becomes more popular and thus more valuable? What about giving a reader “article credits” if they share our articles through social media? Should someone with a “larger social network” get more credits than someone with a small one?

We need to get more creative on how we charge for our valuable digital content.

Fast forwarding: Just last night, my husband and I were in the same, short-on-time, let’s-grab-something-easy situation. Where did we end up? Whole Foods.

We each could have what we wanted from the buffet. And we didn’t pay a flat rate; we paid by the weight of the food. It made more sense. We each were satisfied, and the price related to what we each consumed made a lot more sense than the flat-rate buffet experience.

Is there a lesson here? It is time we start challenging the school of all fish swimming the same direction and think about how consumers in this digital world really behave and start catering to their paradigm instead of ours.

Let’s plan pay meters version 2.0, based on the how consumers actually interact in the digital world.

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