John Lanchester: Can newspapers survive?

Lanchester in the LRB.

Short answer: not in print, but yes online.

Longer answer:

I feel equally certain in saying that what the print media need, more than anything else, is a new payment mechanism for online reading, which lets you read anything you like, wherever it is published, and then charges you on an aggregated basis, either monthly or yearly or whatever. For many people, this would be integrated into an RSS feed, to create what amounts to an individualised newspaper. I would be entirely happy to pay to subscribe to Anthony Lane on movies in the New Yorker, and Patricia Wells on restaurants in the Herald Tribune, and Larry Elliott on economics in the Guardian, and David Pogue on technology in the New York Times, and I also want to feel free to read anything else which catches my eye, whenever I feel like it – I just don’t want to have to think about paying every time I click on the article to read it. I want a monthly or yearly charge, taken off my credit card without my having to think about it. That charge could mount up pretty high over the course of a year, but not as high as the current costs – $4.99 for a single digital issue of the New Yorker, for example. Papers can charge different amounts for their content, and we the readers will be the market who decides what is worth what. The charging process has to be both invisible and transparent: invisible at the moment of use, and transparent when I want to see what I’ve paid. The idea is for a cross between a print version of Spotify, with a dash of Amazon and a dash of iTunes. All those players have the expertise to do it, as do the credit card companies. From the technical perspective it should not be all that hard to do, and it would, I believe, work in remonetising the newspaper business. Let us pay – we’re happy to pay.

Lanchester also links to this excellent piece by Alan Rusbridger and the OECD’s important 2010 study The Evolution of News and the Internet.

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