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Competing with free: News and how to do it better

 5 min read / 

Simple ideas are often the best ones. The ideas behind so many of the products and services that have changed the way we lead our lives, have improved our lives, are remarkably simple. Spotify and other music streaming services like Apple Music have changed how we listen to our favourite artists. You pay a monthly fee and then listen to all the albums and songs you want. Simple. It is even better than free music. Rates of piracy have dropped dramatically from the days when Napster posed an existential threat to the music industry.

It is a similar story for movies and television. Services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video make it easy to watch all the shows you would ever want to. Dodgy streams and torrents have disappeared from people’s lives. Gabe Newell, the founder of Valve, spoke of how piracy was a service problem. Provide a better service for getting access to games, movies and music, and piracy will disappear. Steam, Valve’s online store and gaming platform, has proven this to be true. Piracy is all about getting things for free. People love free things. But if you can offer them that is better than free they will pay for it.

Today, most of the media we consume comes at no monetary cost. Instead, we are bombarded with ads, or pleas to disable ad blockers. The content suffers from the need to attract eyeballs to the articles and the ads which surround them. This results in clickbaity pieces which undermine the quality of the analysis, insight or news that the reader gets.

One obvious way to solve this is with a subscription service. There are many out there. You can subscribe to the Financial Times, the New York Times or the Economist, among many many other publications. But to subscribe to only those three would cost over £50 a month. And that is only for a small amount of content and from a limited perspective.

There have been attempts to introduce new news models. Blendle has pioneered a pay-per-article approach. It works in a similar way to phone credit. You top up your account and then pay for each piece you read like you would for each text you send. However, this experimental new model has failed to catch on. Readers do not feel that they get any added value with this model. With a little counter of money steadily decreasing with each article read, they are encouraged to read less, rather than more. This makes it unappealing to publishers, and they have fled such platforms. The way people get access to music libraries has already evolved from this iTunes-like, one-off purchase approach. Now, people listen to as much as they want through streaming subscription services. The same has to be done for news.

There is one thing which does act similarly to a Netflix-for-news service: the internet. Paying just for access, through mobile data or home broadband, people can access sites from Mother Jones, Breitbart, or the BBC for free. But this leaves news stuck in a past which other media industries moved beyond years ago. It is like getting your music on Napster. You can find some good stuff, but it takes time, and you run the risk of getting something malicious, such as viruses or fake news. To top it off, where will the good stuff come from when people can’t make a living producing it? Right now, nearly half of all journalists in the UK take home less than £1,800 a month. News is valuable, and needs to be funded. The current approach is unsustainable. We believe that it better that the people who benefit from it, the audience, should be the people who support and fund it, rather than advertisers or powerful individuals.

News is a public good, in a way that music, movies and games are not. It cannot be locked away a paywall with no way for people who cannot pay to access it. This throws up another problem which previous attempts at solving the issues affecting news have not been able to tackle, ensuring access for the least able to afford it. But with Intellectual Mining, which we discussed in a previous article, Mogul News has a way to allow anyone access while still contributing value to the community.

The main problem facing news today is not one of quality; there are many hundreds and thousands of great journalists out there. It is not one of trust either: newspapers used to be seen as bastions of genuine and truthful reporting and can be again. Rather, it is one of monetisation and service. It is possible to build a platform that allows people to find out information on the important things in their lives, which gathers together coverage on everything going on in the world, with high-quality insight and opinion, for one low-cost subscription. This allows journalists and publishers to be fairly rewarded for the work they do, creating a platform that provides a service for both readers and producers. This is a platform that competes with free.

It is a simple idea, but it takes a lot of work to make happen. At Mogul News, we are building that platform. We want to build something which gets rid of the need for clickbait. There has not been a Netflix for news yet because no attempts to create such a platform has made a service that can compete with free.

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