Newsstands are à la carte. How about online as well?

I travel a lot, and buy newspapers wherever I happen to be. That would be true online as well, if I could do it. But I can’t, because that’s not an option.

For example, my butt is in California right now, but my nose is in Boston, where I’m reading the Globe. I don’t want a subscription to the Globe, but I would like to pay for today’s paper, or for at least the right to read a few stories from it.

Not easy. Or even possible, after the first one or two. Because, soon enough this paywall thingie comes up:

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It’ a subscription come-on, modeled after the one the New York Times has been using for years, and I wrote about back in 2012, here. (The switch after the above bait: “$.99*… *That’s less than $1 for 4 full weeks! Then pay the regular low rate of $3.99 per week.”)

I had some advice for the Times at that last link, and I’ve got some for all papers today: create an à la carte option. I know there are lots of reasons not to, all of which arise from system-based considerations on the sell side of the relationship with newspaper buyers.

What I’m saying is that the newsstand option has worked fine for more than a century in the physical world, and should be an option in the networked one as well.

At least think about it. Constructively, as in Let’s see… how can we do that? Not “It’s too hard.” Or “People only want free stuff.” Those are all echoes inside the old box. I want us to think and work outside of that box.

People are willing to pay value for value if it’s easy. So let’s make it easy. The ideas I vetted three years ago are still good, but don’t cover the à la carte option. Let’s just focus on that one, and consider what’s possible.



  1. Dave Winer’s avatar

    Makes sense, but they may have waited too long to do this.

    What people want is articles now. Linked into a river somewhere.

    1. Facebook is a river.

    2. Twitter is a river.

    The only question as far as I’m concerned if The Rest of Us get a river.

  2. Tim Jarrett’s avatar

    Doc, the iOS client for the Boston Globe provides what you’re looking for in its most current incarnation. It gives you access to a facsimile of the whole paper, ads and all, with the ability to click into a text view of any article.

    I’d argue this is useless on an iPhone but pretty useful on an iPad. I dunno why they don’t offer this model on the web.

  3. Joseph Ratliff’s avatar

    How many of us still read a newspaper “cover to cover?”

    So, if NYT, instead of baiting a recurring subscription with an entry-level offer … what if they sold the feature reporting on a per article basis (I dunno, a dime per article to unlock it?)?

    Then, mixed that with some giveaway feature reporting articles that had a tag at the bottom for a subscription (if you liked this article, why not subscribe to get all of our feature reporting?)

    There are major, feature articles (long-form, valuable) that I would pay for … but the rest I don’t need, or read, at all.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Dave and Tim.

    I’ll check out the Globe on a pad. But I do most of my online reading on a laptop. Very retro of me, I guess.

    Rivers are what we need. Should we have ways of paying voluntarily for what we like on a river? Just asking.

    And, fwiw, articles are what we’ve wanted all along. Newspapers and magazines aren’t books. They’re curated collections of stuff. (I hate calling it “content.”) Before the Net, they had to be packaged up. Now they’re easily unpacked. The trick is to align supply and demand, and find ways to pay for what we demand, if we want. (And to encourage wanting it, if we also want a business to persist in the marketplace, whatever it becomes.)

  5. David’s avatar

    The Winnipeg Free Press is in the process of switching to this model. Each article will cost $0.27 or so, and they’ve said feature and investigative reporting might cost more in the future.

  6. Bill Bennett’s avatar

    I think it’s now almost 20 years since I first heard someone ask that question. That doesn’t stop it being a good question. At a guess I’d say there isn’t a viable technology that can make microscopic payments work.

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