The Paywall Quandary: How many subscriptions does one really need?

Bloomberg is the latest to go behind the paywall. And it is going to annually cost about $420. Felix Salmon (over on Slate) argues that Bloomberg is going behind a paywall because it can as this is a season to go behind the paywall. And he points out that we should save our dollars for some other publication, which needs it. Well, that’s not how capitalism works. You pay for things you want.

My response to his commentary on Twitter was: “Bloomberg gives you information edge, and thus it would be one new subscription I will pay for, despite their anti-Apple bias. One of the best tech teams, global coverage. They are premium & are charging premium $$$s.”

And I mean that.At present, I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Economist. I have a subscription to two web-based services that help me get more data and information about startups and venture investments. In addition to these services, I pay for Apple Music, Spotify and two additional channels (Acorn and MHz Networks) on Amazon Prime. After reading some comments from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about manipulating our attention, I felt it wasn’t worth giving them my dollars. I pay for MLB and Willow (for cricket.) And not to mention 15-25 books I buy every year and some contributions I make to NPR and PBS.

I don’t mind paying for media — written word, music, video or data – that I deem valuable. And all of these are to be seen in the context of the amount of available time and attention. Just as I am willing to spend on proper diet and health, I don’t consider nourishing the brain a cost. It is a necessity. For me, if there is value, and if it makes my work or my life better, I will pay for it. But there is a limit to how much I can spend or instead how much I am willing to spend.

And yet, I think the paywall craze which is sweeping the media herd will be a big reality check for the news and magazine publishers. So many of them are drinking their own spiked kool -aid. They will soon realize the size of their “real audience” and will soon realize that they don’t pass the “value for money” threshold. There are very few publications that have a feeling of must-reads and must-haves.

More importantly, one can’t overlook the fact that we don’t need a lot of media sources. Between the New York Times and WSJ, I am well covered as far as my daily news needs are concerned. The Washington Post is useful, but not quite invaluable–just yet. I could add an information source to stay informed and educated about my local community, but honestly, SF Chronicle isn’t it. Among magazines, I won’t mind paying for one-off articles or be part of a Tony Haile’s Scroll-like service. But that’s it.

Between life, and work, there isn’t that much time for anything else. And that’s me: a former media guy, who wants to pay for his information, happy to be informed, educated and entertained.

I will sign up for Bloomberg, but something else will have to go. Maybe one of the subscription services or perhaps the Wall Street Journal— let me see! Oh, by the way, Felix, in case you were wondering, most people who will pay for Bloomberg will put it on their expense accounts.

PS: I think all the publications who are thinking about a paywall need to spend some serious money on beefing up their infrastructure and offer better mobile and app experiences. Even the Times and WSJ get a B+ regarding experience. Bloomberg’s Businessweek app is a B- at best. 

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