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Thursday 24 December 2009

Reading The Future?

In Britain fairly recently, we had a national postal strike.
As can be imagined, this caused a lot of disruption to postal services. The effects were felt for far longer than the actual strike, because of the backlog of mail that built up.
Because of this, some companies that rely on the Royal Mail service, started to make alternative arrangements to get their products to their customers. One of those may well have some implications for the future.

Like a lot of people, i subscribe to magazines. All of which have to be delivered by post.

During the postal strike, two of the magazines that i subscribe to, one a weekly publication & the other a monthly one, decided to start a service whereby a link was sent by email to all subscribers. This email link linked to a special online version of the full magazine. This e-magazine was a full replica of the published version & even has turnable pages. It can also be magnified to highlight parts of text.

This is a very clever little bit of programming that allows this to happen & i should inagine that it's a pretty recent development too. But, i truly believe that this is a pointer to the future for both magazines & possibly even newspapers too.

One reason for this thought is that both magazines, "Word Magazine" & "The Week", have found that their subscribers like the e-magazine so much, that they have both decided to make this a permanent arrangement. Now, when a new edition of the magazine comes out, i get an email, complete with the link to the e-version.

I have already set up special email folders to save these links. Thus giving me a permanent link to the magazines. I don't even have to store, or even read my paper copy anymore.
This is surely a sign of things to come?

Another thing that these two magazines have in common, is that neither of them has a website that allows you to read their content online. Yes, they both have a website & in the case of "Word Magazine" a very good one too. But, you can't read the magazine there, you have to subscribe to do that.
To me at least, i think this is a very sensible arrangement & one i fully support.

Now, contrast this arrangement with what most other magazines & especially newspapers do.
Most of them allow you to read most, if not all, of their content online & for free too.

I'm sure we've all seen the news coverage of Rupert Murdoch & News International complaining about Google allowing anyone to search for their content & then access it online for free.

Whilst i can see why Rupert Murdoch is not happy, surely this situation is of his own making?
You can't really complain that people are either not buying a physical copy of your newspaper, or that they are unwilling to pay to view it online, when the newspaper has it's own website which shows the newspapers content, for the whole world to see & for free too!
Am i missing something here?

I have no doubt that people would be willing to pay for content. But, they are not going to do that when that same content is freely & legally available elsewhere.

So, why don't Rupert Murdoch & other news organisations go down the same route that magazines such as "The Week" & "Word Magazine" have done?

I think one reason might be that they all rushed into creating websites for their various publications, thinking that they had to get on the bandwagon & not get left behind by the competition.
By doing this, they have now created an audience for online reading & have even allowed more people to read their output than ever before.
Unfortunately, a lot of these people will be casual readers. How many of those casual readers would actually pay good money to read that relevant publication? I guess we'll never know.

My challenge to Rupert Murdoch etc would be.
If you are really serious about getting people to pay for your online content & even encourage people back to buying a hard copy of your newspapers. Shut down the free, official, websites of your newspapers & then charge people to view them. Or, send your paying subscribers an email link, to enable them to view the newspaper online.

I have a funny feeling that Mr Murdoch will not take this course of action. But, if he did, it would most likely solve the Google problem in one fell swoop.

I think 2010 could be an interesting year in the newspaper & magazine publishing world.


  1. Many publishers are afraid of charging for online content because user surveys always say, "We won't pay for what we can find for free." But time and again, publishers of *quality* online content have been successful with paid access to online content.

    At some point, the infantile, pseudo-libertarian view that "information wants to be free" will fall to the realization that there is a cost to producing and distributing quality content - even on the web.

  2. Ken: Well put Ken & i agree with you. Free is great, but it is not a truly viable option for all. If the culture & expectation of "Free" doesn't end, we will be left with far less to read, watch & listen to in the future.