My recent post, Googled: The End of the World As We Know It, discusses the book that is in large part about how difficult a problem it is for news and other organizations to continue to get paid for the work they do in providing content.
A recent announcement by the Worcester T & G that they will attempt to charge for some of their content has spurred me to a new realization.
When I pay a subscription fee for a hardcopy newspaper, magazine, or book, I try to make sure that I read enough of what I bought to get my money’s worth. I know I have just so much time I can spend reading. In the past, when I could match my available time to the content that I could reasonably afford and obtain, the trade-off wasn’t impossibly difficult. It was also not too difficult to predict what I would want to pay to have access to.
The internet has changed the situation enormously. I now have easy access to far more than I have the time to read. I can no longer predict which sources I will want to read for which items now that I have the ability to find out what so many sources are writing about.
How much would I be willing to pay each source? Would I spend $2 or $3 a month to each of the hundreds of sources I might tap? How do I decide which of these sources to spread the $2 or $3 per month each that I could afford? How would I keep track of all these subscriptions to renew the ones I wanted and to cancel the ones I no longer wanted?
So, I think that even a relatively low fee of $2 or $3 per month is not viable.
If an organization came along that would provide me access to a large number of these sources and charge me $10 or $20 a month, I might think about subscribing. After the fee that the organization would take as its profit, it could distribute the rest of the money to the sources that provide the content. They could make the payments proportionate to the amount of readership on a per eyeball pair per minute basis. (I do not know how to account for reading speed or information absorption speed.) This would spread the money around in a fair manner that I could not possibly accomplish on my own by trying to distribute my payments individually. By fair, I mean fair to the content providers and fair to the content consumers.
Google already is able to collect this kind of information as a way of extracting payments for the ads that it places on web pages. It also shares some of this revenue with web sites on which it has placed the ads. It does the collecting and distributing on a per click basis. If nobody clicks on your ad, you don’t pay and the web site doesn’t get paid.
Somebody just needs to turn it around and use it as a way to distribute subscription income. There is not a far distance from what Google is already doing and my new idea.
Add in to the mix the retail selling of intellectual property that iTunes and Amazon do, and you are not very far away from what I am suggesting.
How about Publisher’s Clearing House? This would be a natural business for them to enter if they didn’t define themselves so narrowly.
If someone else doesn’t wake up, Google will have a monopoly on this end of the business, too.
I have published this idea as a knol on Google.
March 26, 2011
Making the payments proportional to eyeball per minute is of course only one method of making payment. Some amount of research and thought will have to be given to exactly how to distribute the payments. For instance payments per page per click could easily be gamed by the content provider by breaking up articles into many small pages. On the other hand, a content provider that published a long detailed article would be unfairly penalized by getting paid the same amount per page as a publisher with many small articles. Some of these problems might be ameliorated by natural free market forces. The method of payment adopted ought to promote a fair distribution of payments, however difficult it is to decide on what is fair.