This is exactly what so many people are afraid of with subscriptions. Let’s pause for a moment and look at some other examples of where people thought Apple’s App Store was going to be some sort of godawful den of iniquity (granted, with the initial onslaught of fart apps, that was a distinct possibility).
We’ve got this example about the 99 cent apps that people are so afraid of. Articulate and accurate, if I don’t say so, myself.
Then there’s some of this fear-mongering that hit the interwebs right after the opening of the app store.
Can we see a pattern here? Everyone panicked when apps were selling for $0.99, and now the dollar apps are the way to financial independence. Develop an amazing app, sell it for a dollar to a million people, and you’re set for the next few years. Sell it to five million, and you can buy a house. Subscriptions don’t need to be expensive, folks.
What will start to happen is a dramatic shift in how people actually start to read, how they get their media. The current model is, well, free. RSS dominated for a while, and Twitter started stealing some of RSS’ thunder. Some folks (like me) still like RSS, but I recognize that it’s not the only way of getting news out there. There’s a whole wide world of content that is waiting to be discovered and digested, and people who (up until now) had no way of feeling comfortable breaking into that world can suddenly have access to it in a very easily accessible manner.
Here’s the clincher. Ready?
Publishers are upset by their sudden restrictions. Just last month it was OK for all these subscription-based or -focused publishers to make all sorts of money off of their customers. There were no transportation fees, no raw material fees, none of that. Just what they paid their developers and writers, but they were already doing that. They had a low-overhead way of distributing their product to lots of people. There were, however, two problems with this model a) the previous subscription process was cumbersome at best and user-hostile, at worst; b) very few publications actually had subscriptions, and people were confused by them (Go to the site? Register? What happens when I’m on my iPad? Do I have to go through Safari?). Again, not optimal. Furthermore, there were (and are) lots of people who want to get paid for what they write, and carving out a place for oneself in the world of publishing demands a not-insignificant amount of research, hard work, and do-overs. The world of writing is a tough one to make it in, mostly because the signal-to-noise ratio is getting lower every day (as I wrote about in this post), and publishers want to make sure they’re paying for quality.
What if, however, it were easy to publish, build a subscriber base, and make a name for yourself? What if there was a system in place that exposed your work to millions of people who are already invested in a thriving digital ecosystem? People who are used to and demand curated, well-researched news sources? Perhaps people with a little more green in their wallets? Or perhaps people who are moving up in the world?
This model is not for the established and entrenched giants of publishing, who will attempt to nickel and dime their subscribers and who are too anachronistic to develop truly compelling and groundbreaking digital publications. This model is for the new media, for the folks who want to reach as many subscribers as they can with their good ideas; for the new media consumers, the folks who want those same good ideas but don’t want to load their minds down with ads about “weird belly fat tips” and think that maybe a dollar is a good price to pay for a month’s worth of strong-voiced columns. This is throwing open the gates to the publishing world and finally making it accessible to all the guys and gals with the good ideas but not enough time to eat or sleep and for SURE not look for an agent.
This is what disruption looks like.