Independent News & Media loses the plot with premium offer

In a move that would probably impress Rupert Murdoch, the Independent News & Media group has launched a premium online edition of its various newspapers which is practically inaccessible to readers. This premium online edition is also likely designed to discourage readers from digital editions altogether, thus ensuring the ongoing viability of the dead tree version.

Writing for what I regard as a true premium (and yet, both accessible and free) online news publication, The Daily Maverick, Mandy De Waal described her experience as follows:

This reporter recently subscribed to a free seven-day trial with The Star and instead of being offered premium, thought-provoking content, time-saving benefits or special features that could enhance one’s life, the experience proved disappointing. On the screen was an online newspaper virtually impossible to read because the layout is completely counter-intuitive to the web. The experience is a frustrating combination of zooming in and out, waiting for the page to render and fiddling paragraph-by-paragraph to consume a story that’s hardly worth the effort to start with.

I am sure whoever designed this offering thought it was an insightful and convenient option for the nagging readers who don’t appreciate the aesthetics of a dead tree newspaper and who insist on consuming their news online. Unfortunately it also appears that this person or team of digital innovators haven’t really spend much time on that thing we like to call the Internet using that other thing we like to call a “web browser” and may have developed the user interface for this offering in the early 1990s. As Arthur Goldstuck pointed out in De Waal’s article, this offering is just not suited for web browsers and defeats the purpose of being a premium offering.

There is a debate about whether a paid news service is viable online in the first place (Rupert Murdoch is taking his publications behind paywalls and has famously declared his desire to block Google from indexing those publications … good luck with that!) and as much as I want all my Web-based content to be free, there are commercial realities and short of advertising revenue (which The Daily Maverick, TechCentral and other innovative publications are using to pay the bills), publications do need to charge something to keep quality journalists writing and the lights on. I have happily paid for premium products online and will likely do so if a compelling enough offering is available to me at a reasonable price.

That said, there is a fair amount of quality journalism available online at no real cost to me including the publications I mentioned earlier and larger publications like Times Live. While I can hardly say I am well acquainted with all the complexities of modern news publication, I do understand that the challenge of presenting quality journalism and writing online and still paying the bills is a tough one but one that is being met by truly innovative thinkers (and I’m not talking about the individuals behind the Independent’s premium offering).

This so-called premium offering is nothing of the sort. Instead it is a declaration that the Independent News & Media group just doesn’t understand what its readers want and what works online. It is a declaration of irrelevance.

Source: Justin Arenstein



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