When was the last time you paid for a newspaper subscription? Better yet, when was the last time you used your parents’ log-in information to get onto the Wall Street Journal? Or even better, when was the last time you picked up a physical copy of the New York Times and felt the weight of those pages in your hands? That’s what I thought, and that’s also the dilemma facing the print media industry today. Last year saw the lowest print ad revenues ever recorded, with the experts noting a “slow divorce between advertising and editorial” that’s leaving industry stalwarts like the Times and the Washington Post in a financial bind. While print circulation as a share of total circulation continues to nosedive, digital audiences – specifically across mobile platforms – are driving gains that are surely welcomed by the news industry.
Monetizing content for a digital audience is the name of the game here. While Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of the Post seemed a mystery to many, a recent development answers any question as to why the Amazon CEO would show interest in a failing newspaper. A new experiment at the Post is in the works, with a team named Project Rainbow developing a new app that will offer a curated selection of news and photos from the paper. The upcoming app will come preinstalled on Amazon’s newest (and much larger) Kindle Fire tablet later this fall. While the app will be free for the new Kindle owners, others will have to pay a monthly subscription fee to access the content. Bezos has found a new way to expand the Post’s reach using his own company’s product – a genius move designed to resuscitate old media by transforming it to be new media-friendly.
Similar to the music industry, the big newspapers are looking for ways to spur people to start paying regularly for journalism again. A startup out of the Netherlands may have found just the answer. Calling itself the ‘iTunes of journalism,’ Blendle has partnered with most of the major Dutch newspapers and magazines, collecting their articles into a single platform and behind just one paywall. Instead of paying a monthly fee, users only fork over money for the articles that they’ve read – a move that puts readers in control of where their money goes. Blendle subscribers can also personalize the content presented to them, and can share articles with friends on the platform. The publishers split the revenue with Blendle 70-30, and users can get a refund if they don’t like the article they’ve paid for.
A central content hub where readers pay by article has the potential to disrupt the media industry and help news outlets recoup their losses at a time when every dollar and every reader count. Under Bezos’ rule, the Washington Post’s digital efforts seem to be paying off – the paper had 63% more unique visitors in July of this year compared to 2013. While Bezos and startups like Blendle are starting to shake up and redefine new media, it’s clear that something needs to change – and fast.