It really shouldn’t be this hard.
If I want to buy a newspaper, and there are some of us who still do, then it’s pretty easy. I go into a local newsagent, garage or supermarket, pick up a copy and hand over some money.
Yes, the newsagent might want me to place an order with him. I still see the paperboy out delivering copies to people who buy a paper that way. But I can just buy a one-off copy with no effort. There’s no hard sell from the newsagent trying to upsell me or anything. I just leave with my paper.
So why is it digitally so much more complicated?
Case in point. I wanted to buy a copy of The Times. I did actually visit the newsagent earlier in the day to buy a Guardian (I buy a paper copy daily). But I forgot that there was something in The Times that I also wanted to read. The Times, you will recall, puts all its online news behind a paywall. That’s their strategy, and that’s fine. I’m willing to pay for it in this instance.
OK. I want today’s Times. So I’ll just use my tablet.
I pop into Google News-stand as that’s the default way to buy such things in the Android ecosystem.
But a search within that section for “The Times” gives me the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Hindustan Times as the top three results. “The Times” – the London one – isn’t in there.
No sign o’ “The Times” – as Prince mightn’t have said.
OK. Maybe they don’t sell through the generic News-stand product. An odd choice, but I’m sure they have their reasons. They’ll have an app.
They do. I download and install it. Great.
Could I buy today’s issue?
I could choose to subscribe to the Classic Pack, Web Rolling or Digital Pack.
Look, I understand that a whole week of web access is only marginally more than the £1.40 cover price in newsagents. So why wouldn’t I buy a week’s worth of papers for £2? But I just wanted today’s paper – not an ongoing subscription that I have to remember to cancel at a later date.
So I gave up there and headed over to Amazon.
I first opened the Kindle App on my tablet and went to the store. In the newspapers section The Times and Sunday Times (Kindle Edition) are the top listed papers. Excellent!
But there was some green writing just underneath: “Digital download not supported on this mobile site.”
What could that mean? I clicked through anyway, and was again offered a monthly subscription. I could also take a 14 day trial which would surely be the cheapest way to get access to today’s copy. But again, that requires me to cancel in a few days to avoid an ongoing subscription fee.
However, below that was a button allowing me to buy the current issue for 99p!
Finally! And a bit cheaper than the paper copy.
I clicked “Buy Now” but nothing really happened.
The paper certainly wasn’t showing up in my Kindle App.
I went to the website, via a laptop and checked my Amazon account.
Nope, I hadn’t been charged for it. That must have been what that cryptic writing was about. Even though I was able to click a 1-Click button within the app’s browser, I hadn’t actually bought a copy.
So, this time – on the laptop – I again purchased that day’s copy of The Times for 99p. It went through this time. It was mine! A couple of eco-systems later, I was just moments away from reading it.
Back in the app I re-synced a few times, but nothing was downloading.
Over on the website, there was a note on the Amazon page that said, “Available on these devices.”
Hovering my mouse over the link revealed that the download I’d just paid for could only be read on a variety of Kindle hardware devices. Specifically there was no access via the Kindle app!
Now I do own a Kindle. But I was at work, and it’s at home with a flat battery because I mostly read anything Kindle related in their app on my tablet.
Fantastic. If I’d known that, then I’d have picked up a copy on the way home, from the newsagent. It’s just easier.
Newspaper circulations continue to fall, and yet newspapers seem to go out of their way to make it hard to buy copies in a digital age. It really shouldn’t be more convenient for me to head out to a newsagent and buy a physical copy than download one on the device of my choosing.
I understand that subscriptions are what every publisher wants. But I’m the kind of person who will still buy occasional copies of papers (I already subscribe to The Guardian, Economist and NYT – the latter two digitally – so tying myself into more subscriptions isn’t really in my interests). Indeed newspapers are still very interested in the occasional reader. That’s why they use the bit above the masthead to sell to readers how exciting that day’s product is for them.
If you make it hard for me to buy a single copy, then you’re actively working against your own interests.
I’ve no idea what kind of deals The Times has struck that might prevent them from offering The Times in the Kindle App, but I noticed afterwards that had I bought a copy of, say The Guardian, via the Kindle store, I could quite easily have read it in said App. Limiting The Times to “old school” Kindle devices is an utterly absurd restriction that they seem to have imposed.
The Times in particular seems dead set against selling access to individual copies.
Interestingly, I didn’t really even consider The Times’ website via a laptop as a first course of action, since reading the paper on a 7 inch tablet seemed the most natural way to go. Yet even visiting the website reveals that they still want you to subscribe. Even if you only want to read a single article, you need to subscribe for a week – a subscription that will roll unless you cancel it.
I know that The Times is doing pretty decently in terms of numbers with their paywall model. In a recent Media Show on Radio 4, 390,000 was the number of cumulative print & digital, and digital only subscribers that they had. So part of their strategy is working.
But why won’t they let me buy a single copy?