Doctor: Read-anywhere subscriptions a key to the digital transition

Nieman Journalism Lab
As eager as print media executives are to sell content on digital tablets, Ken Doctor has a question that may keep them up at night:

“What if newspaper readers, clearly pivotal early adopters of the iPad, decide they really don’t need the paper anymore — that they’ve got the paper, in almost-paper-like form right in front of them, more environmentally friendly and updating throughout the day?”

Doctor writes that a too-quick adoption of tablets, and a resulting decline in print circulation, would “play havoc with the business model of news and magazine publishing.”

And, with some publishers expecting a quarter of their readers to be on tablets within five years, he argues, the print-to-digital transition is here.

Doctor highlights a few metrics to watch during the transition:

  • Subscription pricing
  • Advertising pricing
  • Costs

Of the three, I have been watching the evolution of the subscription model most closely. The questions surrounding advertising and expenses seem likely to resolve themselves if newspapers can manage to grow, or at least maintain, an audience.

And, I agree completely with Doctor’s prediction that “read anywhere” subscriptions will be a key part of a successful audience growth strategy.

As he notes, several major publishers — including News Corp., A.H. Belo and Morris Communications — are already offering print, digital and mobile content under a single subscription, with The New York Times soon to join.

And, a “view-anywhere” policy is one of the reasons Netflix, which delivers movies by mail, Web, tablet or smart phone for one price, has seen rapid membership growth.

But most of all, a single-subscription policy could be a significant retention tool. I don’t often use the DVD-by-mail feature with Netflix, but I continue to pay a bit more for that option, even if most of my movie viewership is now digital. If Netflix had those services on two different bills, my DVD-watching days would have ended a year ago.

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