For about as long as newspapers have been profitable, the secret to success has been a combination of subscriptions and advertising. Find customers who value your content enough to pay for it and advertisers looking to reach those readers and you’re golden. And then along came the internet.
A growing number of readers are getting the news they need online, and with very few exceptions, companies that have tried charging for news content have faced an uphill battle: There’s just so much free stuff out there that it’s hard to get a large number of people to pay for premium content. And for some reason that I’ve never really figured out, advertisers aren’t willing to pas as much for online advertising (despite the fact that they can get far more information about visitors and target highly effective ads, which is much harder to do with newsprint).
Now publishers and tech companies are taking another approach: subscription-based apps.
Rupert Murdoch unveiled a new iPad-only newspaper/magazine today. It’s called The Daily, and it will run you 99 cents per week or $39.99 per year. Readers will get a new issue every day, and you can navigate through the content using a touch-friendly user interface that’s a bit like a magazine or web site — but clearly designed for touchscreen tablets like the iPad.
The Daily will also take advantage of the digital format to offer video content, social networking integration for sharing snippets on Twitter or Facebook, and an audio edition that you can listen to while you’re in the car. Coverage will include general news stories such as the conflict in Egypt, along with sports and other content.
Meanwhile the New York Times is developing a new iPad app called News.me, which is a personalized news app that brings you stories from your Twitter contacts and other sources. While The Daily is an original news source with 100 reporters writing fresh content, News.me is more of an aggregator, bringing you stories from around the world. Despite the lack of original reporting, News.me will likely be a subscription-based app, allowing the company to pay to license content from other news sources.
Apple is making these subscription services possible with a new in-app subscription service which lets developers offer users the ability to pay for subscriptions using their iTunes accounts.
There’s still one thing we don’t really know though: Are consumers willing to pay for news on their iPads or other tablets or smartphones? Newspaper subscription numbers are falling. For the most part people aren’t paying for newspaper access. After the novelty of reading content that’s only available on the iPad wears off, will they subscribe to apps?