The Great Pay Wall of Slovakia

Cash Register
The first time I visited Slovakia, it was part of the former Communist nation. At the border crossing there were soldiers with machine guns. They rifled through our luggage and put a large mirror under the car to see if were attempting to bring something bad into the country. The country joined the European Union in 2004 and today, according to Business Week,  it is considered to be a high-income advanced economy with one of the fastest growth rates in the European Union A Bloomberg Businessweek story a few days ago described how a Bratislava company is organizing a national pay wall and has signed up the country’s top publications (See Online Media: The Great Pay Wall of Slovakia – BusinessWeek). This seems like a really good idea to me. U.S. publishers should pay attention. I am not suggesting a national paywall, by any means. But how about a business publications paywall, or maybe one for news, or for sports? The publsihers are fighting with Apple, Amazon, and others trying to preserve their models of the past. (I was really pleased to see Netflix stand up to Starz and not cave to the old model). The Slovakia model has subscribers paying roughly $4 per month (or $40 per year) to gain access to nine different publications. Publishers want us to pay $5 per copy for each of their magazines. Not going to happen. How about $5 per month for access to Businessweek, Forbes, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Barrons, Smart Money, and the Harvard Business Review? I think millions would go for it. Nobody will read all the content of all these publications. Some will read all of one of them, others will read a little of each. The publishers will have to face the music at some point (no pun intended) or they will be disintermediated completely. I pay for WSJ and BW because I read them both cover to cover, but I won’t pay for the New York Times. I read the key stories they publish through the NYT blogs. The NYT gets no money from me. However, if there was a news paywall and for $5 per month I could have access to all the major news sources I would consider it. The NYT would get a slice of the $5 based on how many pageviews they got out of the total for the paywall offering. Another way for the NYT to get money from me would be for them to include their business section as part of the business publication paywall. The Slovakians are onto a really good approach. It takes cooperation from competing entities but I don’t see anything other than greed standing in the way. A tech company in Bratislava called Piano set up the infrastructure and promised nine publishers that they would not have to make any capital investment. Piano’s chief executive officer said it took a year of meetings to persuade the nine publications to get on board. Piano takes a 30% commission and the 70% gets split among the nine publishers proportionate to readership. I don’t know how they handled mobile devices, but clearly they should be included as part of the offering. Publishers, network operators, and platform providers including Apple et al want a share of the pie. Whatever they can work out is fine but from a consumer point of view, I think most of us would agree that what we want is simple. Pay once and read anytime, anywhere, on anything for an affordable fee for substantial content.