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Spotify for news won’t be personalised enough to save the media industry

Picture by Matt Gore iconphotomedia CIO Summit 2015I wear a few hats (some badly) but one of these is what I would describe as a ‘content provider’ (author sounds to grand and can’t really call myself a journalist). As a writer I am interested in the concept, described by some as Spotify for news, of a single fixed subscription price for everything news related. It is a concept that has been appearing regularly across social media and blogs, with some publishers such as The Media Briefing hailing it as an answer to the ‘fatal flaw’ with the current subscription model used by publishers. It’s certainly an appealing idea, but in a world in which news is so loosely defined and content can come from anywhere could it actually work?

Understanding the real world:
Take a quick look through the articles on this subject and you find that the focus is all too often only on what we call ‘Old Media’ – traditional publications, magazines, newspapers etc, can you see the problem here?

By still referring to content sources as ‘publications,’ we unconsciously discount the wide range of online options available, not just social media channels, but podcasts, vlogs, newsletter, blogs and other digital media channels. So when answering the question: How many different publishers do you regularly read content from each week? (a question posed by The Media Briefing (TMB) when conducting its research) consumers will only count those that they would label as publications and forget all the other media resources.

To suggest that people are now only following 9-15 sources (as TMB’s survey does) is not realistic. People follow hundreds of resources. YouTube and it’s surging number of influencers is the perfect example, many of them have millions of subscribers. 

By definition news is new information (new that is to the person reading it) and that covers far more that what we traditionally define as news.  Accidental news consumption, where users discover information from a social media feed but do not visit the original source is growing and yet to be accurately measured.

So if I were to ask the question as to how places you get your news from again how many would you estimate?

The real world of news and publishing is now much larger than those in the media industry would like to believe, and this has a massive impact on the future. Now that you know how many sources you follow, could you be convinced of the growing need for a Spotify for news and do you think that it would help solve the crisis in the media industry?

The answer is both yes and no.

It is impossible to accurately know what people are willing to pay as it changes constantly. What we do know is that an individual’s willingness to pay per source depends on how many sources you are asking them to pay for. Once the number of sources exceeds the maximum budget that people are willing to spend then they will stop adding new ones. This makes it tempting to think that people would rather pay a single fixed price for full access, like they do for Spotify and Netflix, especially as the number of sources increases the frequency with which they engage and with each one, the value from each source goes down.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make financial sense for publishers/content creators. As the number of publishers goes up, the money going into the system stays the same, leading to less revenue per view.

As with so many things it comes down to cost versus value. The Spotify model doesn’t really work (it barely works on Spotify) and you can’t run a news industry on a concept that means the growing abundance of news would lead to less money to each source. It may work for a few, or across a few specific sharing platforms such as Buzzfeed, but it wouldn’t work as a whole.

Platforms only work for content creators when the number of creators is limited, which platform providers will not consider as they depend on total revenue. 

The younger generation of media organisations have realised this. New publishers or online content creators give subscribers a reason to pay, but the previous generation of publishers have raced to the bottom with low value content that readers refuse to pay for. Introducing a Spotify for news won’t fix this . Creating a larger packaged deal won’t solve anything either. Media organisations need to stop thinking of content as being a random collection displayed in a newsstand or rack, and start thinking like digitally savvy operatives.

In the past, media consumption was always done in a singular way. Television for example, was always watched by sitting down in front of a set. Despite the large number of shows, the format stays the same. This used to be the same for publishing. It didn’t matter what people were reading or what the paper/magazine was about, as people would always read the same way, something that can be seen when taking a minute to just look at the front of a magazine even now…they’re all the same!

The problem is that when we consider online content, we are no longer talking about a singular world of media. Trying to solve this by creating a singular model does nothing other than reduce our new and complex world of media into one of singular consumption, which isn’t appropriate anymore. In doing so you are making products for a market that has moved on a long time ago. Each individual piece of content needs a different model as it meets different needs. The solution is not to create an environment where every publisher has to compete for the same share of revenue. The real problem is that you’re asking for people to pay for something that isn’t relevant for them.

That’s not to say that every shared package model is destined to fail. In some instances it works because the platform targets a single need or audience. By specialising the focus, you reduce the abundance and come back into a zone where the shared model works.

So in conclusion, highly specialised platforms that complement and enhance each other through a shared focus and passion make sense. An all-encompassing Spotify for news – not so much. The main reason that the media industry is currently going through hard times is because companies are not creating the right product.

Changing the way the product is published is not going to alter that, personalisation is. CIO’s across the board, not just in the media industry, need to recognise that in order to appeal to both internal and external audiences they need to ensure the information and content they produce has been specifically tailored to meet a certain audience’s needs.

The media industry is on a tipping point and without implementing the personalisation shift, the media will represent a cautionary tail for other industries and CIOs.

Widgets Magazine
About Mike Altendorf 8 Articles
Mike was the founder of Conchango, one of the UK’s most successful digital consultancies and systems integrators. Mike has many years of experience in consulting services and technology, founding Conchango in 1991 and building it into a £45m+ revenue business before it’s sale in April 2008.
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