In recent weeks, I’ve been travelling quite a bit through Europe, and rather liked the idea of having a British newspaper to read en route.Most newspaper and magazine brands have responded to consumer demand from mobile users by developing online editions, which have many potential advantages, not least providing archive access to material that is otherwise hard for readers to store and index as print media.However, the owners of these media brands seem to have let their interest in the business model of online editions rather overshadow the need for an engaging customer experience.Take The Independent. Its free to read, but requires an internet connection. Well – if I already had free or low- cost internet access in the first place, I’d be much less likely to need an online newspaper. I’d head to the BBC instead, or simply use an aggregator like Yahoo! Or Google. And to be honest, the Independent‘s content is woefully thin compared to these other news sources. As an international traveller, I need something I can download in full, in advance.
This took me to The Guardian and The Times, who both offer fully downloadable versions via a months free trial, followed by a rolling charge of £9.99 per month. Such a fee may well be attractive to committed mobile users, who are comfortable with an e-device as their preferred choice for reading. It also makes sense to make online editions free for those already subscribing to print versions, which makes access more versatile and so likely to increase frequency of use.
But for a new or infrequent user like me, such a pricing model felt like locking me into an ‘all-you-can-eat’ deal when I wasn’t really that hungry.Instead, the experience I wanted was what I’ve grown up with all my life – I.e. I want to buy today’s newspaper, not commit to every newspaper, every day for the rest of December. Some days I’m too busy to read, and other days I want more variety than a single newspaper (I regularly read four or five accounts of a football match report, or political story, to get a range of opinion).The Daily Telegraph had the model that offered this – either a monthly subscription, or a single issue for 69p. As I flicked around Apple’s Newsstand app, I began to find magazines like The New Yorker which also offered single editions (£2.99 in case you’re interested). This was ideal, as I occasionally read titles like this, and being able to grab a copy of the Christmas edition without much effort simply encouraged me to reacquaint myself with it.In short, my experience of these media brands is that the Telegraph and New Yorker reached out to me with flexible, pay-as-you-go offerings that made access both affordable and suitable for my needs. In contrast, subscription media had the feel of a mobile phone monthly commitment – buying more than you need, largely in order to avoid even higher one-off costs.In time, I may yet ‘graduate’ to a monthly subscription, particularly if I get used to liking the experience advantages of touch-screen newspaper navigation (better for commuting than print editions), instant access (faster than queuing to buy a physical copy) and genuine depth of news (there’s a reason why free newspapers are nicknamed ‘throwaways’).But if I do, I’ll be more inclined towards choosing those media brands I’ve already become familiar with through single copy purchase, especially as they have my transaction details, and I’m already used to their layout and navigation.In a world where online content is predominantly free, users need a good reason to commit to a purchase. By making access a one-size-fits-all pricing model, media owners are asking for a commitment before it has been truly earned. They believe that a free trial will provide this, but I feel such an approach is flawed. Switching from ‘free to paid’ is one thing, whereas single purchase to subscription is another. Most importantly, if a good customer experience and relationship is to be achieved, customers must be eager and willing to sign up, not do it grudgingly….