The premise posed by Howard Salz in his essay for Poynter is that the press provides a public service but also is a business that publishes valuable content. Thus, consumers should pay for it. Instead, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many news organizations have decided to let readers have that information for free.
The fallacy of this argument is the assumption that potential consumers believe the media have anything worth reading. I believe news organizations do. But as a former journalist my opinion is not surprising.
Many other Americans disagree as evidenced by the annual low ratings the press receives in Gallup’s poll of trust in U.S. institutions.
The other erroneous assumption is that press is an essential business. It is not.
People need food, medicine and shelter to survive. News is not necessary for existence. Humans can live well (albeit ignorantly) without any exposure to media content.
A better revenue model for news media would be that of cable televisions. Consumers pay a monthly subscription to the provider and in exchange receive hundreds of channel of entertainment.
Likewise, video streamers such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, AcornTV and Britbox have scores of movies and television shows for a monthly fee.
Many consumers, I believe, would be willing to pay a reasonable subscription price to a single provider from whom they could read unlimited content from any newspaper they chose.
People seem more willing to pay for value if they think it is relatively free. Much like hotel claims of a free breakfast for your evening reservation. We know of course there is no such thing as a free lunch or breakfast. But because it comes with a package, it seems easier to swallow.
So, I believe, it would be equally true if I were offered a news package from let’s say AboveTheFold.com for about $10 per month and in return could read several major publications.
The media, of course, would have to pay AboveTheFold to be listed. But then a portion of my subscription fee to AboveTheFold would be returned to the media.
The individual paywall could remain up for persons wanting only that one newspaper. But I have full access to the publication and many others for their public service information and content that I value via my subscription to AboveTheFold.
This is a better revenue model in this digital age.