The best thing about the prospect of improving reader revenues is that it has the potential to liberate news publishers from the scramble for reach, a model that undermines trust in journalism. To take advantage of this opportunity, digital news publishers need to find better payment methods and discovery tools. These were some of the themes explored during the recent Newsrewired conference in London.
Financing news journalism in the digital age was a key discussion point during the recent Newsrewired conference in London. During a panel discussion two speakers – Mark Little, CEO of the news seeker app Kinzen, and Dominic Young, founder of new micro payment app Agate, advocated that better ways to personalise news discovery and then be able to pay for it in seamlessly without subscribing to any specific title, could solve numerous quandaries faced by digital news publishers.
According to Little, the scramble for reach by news publishers during the past two decades “competing for the eyeballs of the lowest common denominator” completely destroyed the user experience of news journalism. It meant every action was judged by scale because digital advertising was the driver behind the business model. It also destroyed trust in journalism. Reader revenue can liberate publishers from this broken model by building deep personal connections with readers.
“A good reader revenue model is based on the fact that two people living next to each other have very different expectations of the news they want to consume. And now we can speak to both of them individually,” he said.
Solid human curation
The good news is that the development of new personalisation tools for news discovery is coming at a time when there is a big shift away from social platforms. The modern news seeker is someone who uses apps for various aspects of his or her life, ranging from sleeping routines to exercise and diet. They want to take control and be more productive. They need a detox from the manipulation they have become used to through social platforms. They ultimately need to be empowered to recreate the news routines that were destroyed by social platforms and algorithms.
Some of these new tools – like the Kinzen app – are built on “solid human curation”, said Little. To start this process Kinzen recruited 1500 people to work as “community editors” to advise on user experience. The source directory comprises over 3500 publishers representing a huge mix of geographical location and categories of interests. Topics are then presented in a way that users can control their own personal preference identity.
Little said the system strongly rejects personalisation based on browser history where users are “stalked by cookies and algorithms”. It also rejects the social echo-chamber where preferences are influenced by people in the user’s social network.
The app improves recommendations within days through machine learning programmed by each individual through feedback. And it continues to do so as the user’s daily routine and news feed needs becomes apparent through systems as uncomplicated as a like and dislike prompt.
Paying for the right content
Little said it has also become very clear that people who take control of their daily digital news feeds are more than happy to pay for it, especially if the right kind of personal relationship is established with the user.
Kinzen is not funded by advertising revenue. Instead, the business model relies on direct support from members, and a share of the extra revenue they can generate for publishers. Kinzen aims to connect active news seekers with the sources of news and information that reward their trust and attention. After a free trial period the premium features cost US$/EUR€4.99 per month or US$/EUR€49.99 per year.
Dominic Young, the founder of Agate, an app which enables news readers to make micro-payments to publishers across a wide range of titles, told delegates that there are too many flaws in the subscription model to fix the problems news publishers are facing to increase reader revenue.
He referenced some of the larger publishers who are very happy – “and excited” – if they achieve five per cent conversion of their reach into subscription. “And the irony is that five per cent is considered successful.
“But it remains a shame that titles should be happy to forego the other 95 per cent,” he said. “We need to find ways to harvest income from the rest o f the people who might not object in principle to pay (for content) but don’t necessarily want to subscribe (to a specific title).”
Frequent and small interactions
Unfortunately, said Young, the internet is really bad at getting small payments from people. “The internet is efficient at almost everything else but when it comes to charging small amounts, it is useless.”
This is a problem that needs to be solved because news media is a medium characterised by frequent and small interactions across a wide verity of brands. It is also true that news consumers in the digital environment find it hard to commit to only one or two brands to provide them with their needs. They need to be able to make small payments to access a range of information and it needs to be effortless.
“It is easy to discover content on the internet. So, if it is more difficult to pay for it than finding it, it will not work… Small payments in shops are not special payments transacted with special tills and special money. They are just payments. It should be the same on the internet.”
To achieve this Agate operates as a centralised digital wallet on participating publisher websites. It allows readers to pay on an article-by-article basis. Users upload money to their Agate wallet and can spend it across sites. Registration is minimised to an easy, one-time process, and users don’t need to download a separate app.