Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Combined paywall subscriptions could help users, and reduce the fake news and bot problems; maybe there is a "catch" though

There have long been combined magazine subscriptions by mail.  I remember trying them back in the 1970s as I started my working life as an adult. People even earned commissions by selling them.

And there have been book clubs, and publications like Reader’s Digest, that consolidate the literature widely available in periodicals and sometimes newspapers, the way you learned about them in English class when I was growing up.

And we’ve seen most city (even small town) newspapers put up paywalls, and even many periodicals online have them now.  By and large, only the network and local televisions station news sites are “free” now.

It seems like common sense that one could propose a combined subscription service where the user could pick a certain number of city newspapers and periodical sites for one subscription.  The combined media billing company would collect a small commission and send the rest to each periodical with automated payments and collections systems, familiar to me in my own mainframe IT career (which placed a heavy emphasis on billing systems).

It might become practical to add other sites, like some independent media, to the mix, in time.  One could imagine that such a company, if it monopolized the market, could wind up as being very powerful and become a “gatekeeper” of what got widely read. But the mechanism would encourage people to search in credible sources again and largely solve the problem of foreign bots stilting social media echo chambers, even leading to the recent Facebook and Twitter purges.

Such a system would have to be sophisticated, and would probably require 50-75 technical people to run, and cost something like $15 million a year to operate, so it would need some scale to work and be profitable and attract capital.  Many publications would be either major periodicals (on the East coast), regular news papers, and entertainment and technology pubs, mostly in California.  I sort of like Dallas as a good location.

A Swedish company called Readly already does something like this.  It seems to be aimed at mainly mobile use, but it also offers downloading for offline reading, somewhat like a Kindle. I don’t know how practical it is with a laptop or desktop, like what I use for research.

Business Insider has an article by Tom Turula, and calls it “Spotify for Magazines”.  So it would need to expand tremendously.  It is looking for more investment money now.   Could it do something like all this in the U.S.?
Presumably the company is prepared to deal with the legal complications, at least in the EU, that will develop from Articles 11 and 13. 

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