Why do we have to pay for news? Digital subscription a boon for readers, vital for publishers
A reader called me this week to complain about last week’s column.
“I read your article,” she said, “or at least the first part of it.”
So either she learned everything she needed to know from the title and the first paragraph, or she didn’t subscribe and was prevented by our paywall from continuing to read.
This hasn’t stopped her from having strong opinions on vaccines, which she vehemently opposes, although vaccines are not mentioned in the column. It also hasn’t stopped her from criticizing the mainstream media.
If she wasn’t a subscriber, it could mean she doesn’t like the newspaper, but it could also mean she just can’t afford it.
The price of subscriptions, single copies and digital access to reliable information is rising almost everywhere. This has led some to question whether this is leading newspapers to cater only to affluent readers or to “super serve the wealthy.”
If so, some argue that mainstream news outlets are increasingly disconnected from the general population and no longer serve democracy as they once did.
These are valid criticisms. Newspaper readers tend to favor the more educated and affluent. And some news organizations don’t accurately reflect the communities they serve.
Meanwhile, all of us – journalists, politicians, health officials – have failed to convince enough people of the benefits of vaccination.
But we try. Informed and reliable information is expensive to produce. Assumptions, presumptions, and crackpot speculation are less expensive.
And we’re not yet ready to give anti-vaxxers a voice in The Spectator, despite continued cancellations of subscriptions because we’re “biased” against them.
Digital subscriptions, it seems to me, are a godsend. If you get an annual subscription to thespec.com, it’s as low as 16 or 17 cents a day. If you want to buy a weekly subscription without commitment, it’s $1.99.
For most of the 20th century, advertising revenue accounted for 75% or more of most newspaper revenues. This has allowed us to keep print subscriptions and unit prices low.
But that is changing rapidly. While many businesses and individuals find print newspapers and news websites to be effective places to advertise (and yes, there are still plenty of ads in the online and print versions of The Spectator) , a lot of traditional advertising goes to big tech companies, and they don’t have reporting staffs.
If we want to improve, we will need readers’ help.