Remember when delivering the daily paper was the responsibility of a neighbor kid on a Schwinn bike? We not only paid to have that wad of knowledge slap down on our doorsteps every morning, we even happily tipped the boy when he came to collect the fee every week.
Ah, the good old days. Now people balk when you ask them to spend cold, hard cash to have that very same paper delivered instantly to their mobile device. Yes, the same people who will spend hundreds of real dollars to keep up a virtual farm, balk at the idea of spending $18 to read the news. Amazing, isn’t it?
The Wall Street Journal is out to change the way those people think by offering individual issue downloads on the iPad for only $1.99. The idea, of course, is that once you sample the full product, you’ll no longer be happy with the watered-down free version. It works in mall food courts, so why not on the iPad?
Here’s why not. The Wall Street Journal and soon the New York Times and every other paper considering a paywall have to prove to the public that by paying, they’ll get something they can’t get anywhere else. That’s a tough sell and not just because people are used to getting things free on the internet. It’s the “news” portion of selling the news that hurts. News isn’t proprietary. I don’t need the New York Times to know what’s happening in Japan. I can go to CNN or Huffington Post or Twitter even.
In order to get customers to pay for news, a paper has to demonstrate a special knack for better commentary, exclusive sources, or the ability to break news faster than the competitor. People will pay to access online content. The adult biz has thrived on paywalls for many, many years. But it seems like a niche paper such as the Civil War Bayonet Collector’s Gazette would have an easier time selling digital subscriptions than a major newspaper, because it truly does contain information you can’t find anywhere else.
What do you think about the idea of selling single-issue downloads? Is it the path to conversion, an extra revenue stream, or another useless shot at getting people to pay for the cow when the milk is already free?