A greyscale view of chargeable mobile content

wsj-iphone-charge Quite a bit of comment and opinion greeted the news from Dow Jones a few days ago that access to the mobile edition of the Wall Street Journal will no longer be free from later next month.

It caught my attention because I often read the Wall Street Journal on my mobile device of choice, my iPhone, via the paper’s excellent iPhone app, launched in April.

If I want to continue doing that after October 24, though, I’ll need to be a paying subscriber to the Wall Street Journal in some way, either to the print newspaper or the website, or both.

I’m currently not any kind of paying subscriber, so it would be easy just to say, Ok, Dow Jones, start charging for access to your mobile content and I’m gone.

As it happens, that’s what I did say to myself (and on Twitter). Is it really as black-and-white as that?

I think the fact that you can access the Journal’s content totally for free at the moment via an app on a mobile device is a luxury we’ve been lucky to enjoy. The iPhone app is ad supported (as I imagine the Blackberry app is as well), a business model I thought a good one. It complements the Journal’s pay model on the web: you want access to WSJ.com, you pay an annual subscription that gives you access to the whole website. Want it on your mobile device? It’s free but you have to see ads – the cost is your attention rather than your money.

Others thought that model was good, too.

But clearly the pressures to show a revenue stream from all content, however it’s consumed, are too great and so Dow Jones says it will charge for access. That’s what other media companies are saying, too: Sky News, for instance, which launched its iPhone app in May, says it’s going to charge people outside the UK and Ireland for access to content.

I use these apps as well as others, notably the Financial Times’ iPhone app, launched in July, that has a very clear pay model. Certainly clearer to me than the Journal’s plan which will cost you either $1 or $2 a week or even access for free depending on what sort of subscriber you are.

Here’s where the apparent black-and-white picture shifts to one of greyscale as I see it.

paypercontent Rather than simply charge you a blanket fee that gives you access to all the content via a mobile site on the web or an app on a mobile device, I think a better model is one that charges on a pay-per-use basis. That’s how I see a micropayment system.

To me, that would mean being able to access content occasionally from places that I’m not willing to subscribe to otherwise, but from which I would be willing to purchase access to specific content from time to time.

Surely a micropayment idea is a better proposition than no income at all from someone like me who might have elected not to subscribe and, thus, not see any content. And even better if the content I’d purchase access to from time to time is something I’d regard as especially compelling – a favourite columnist, for instance, or some analysis I can’t get anywhere else – or if how I access it and what I can do when connected are unique in some way or give me an enhanced experience.

Maybe that’s what Dow Jones is getting at with this description in their press release:

[…] In addition to the new subscription offering, several new features will be added to the WSJ Mobile Reader, including advanced save and share functions, enhanced market data, stock tracking and personalization capabilities.

In fact, why not offer all methods to consume content? Subscription and micropayment? In an environment where news is a commodity – who on earth will pay for news when you can find it everywhere online, and for free? – surely demonstrating how you can offer some kind of unique value to the user that connects you both in a meaningful way is the real way to develop a feasible revenue stream.

Like everyone else, the mainstream media is trying to figure out which path to take in a world that’s constantly shifting.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Bernie Goldbach

    I like the WSJ and first started reading the online version in early 1999. It will be interesting to see how this pay-for-view model works. I feel addicted to WSJ content and trust its daily updates to push directly onto my mobile phone as email messages.

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