News works only in a bundle of one

Simon Owens for What’s New in Publishing takes a look at some of the challenges behind bundling of news, generally into a third party app of some description.

These are essentially a “Netflix but for news” style take. A potential subscriber may not be interested in subscribing to the New York Times, the Independent and The Economist for example (see subscription fatigue), but if you could get all three in the one bundle, and the price is right, why not?

As it turns out there are a few good reasons why not.

Just from the reader’s perspective, there is the question of what is (and what isn’t) in the bundle. What if you don’t want the Independent but do want the Bangkok Post? Too bad. Will you be getting all the publisher’s material (generally no, more on that in a sec). Will you have to use an app to read the news? Most likely yes—a drag if, like most people your news reading habits swing between laptop, phone and tablet, meaning you’ll need the app on your phone and tablet and be out of luck on your laptop.

More importantly though, it seems the “rising tide floats all boats” doesn’t really apply to the publisher’s perspective. They routinely keep stories for their own subscribers. Mogul News referenced by Owens has its own team who:

“handpicks what articles to feature on the app from news publishers’ feeds…”

So not only are you only getting a subset of what the publisher deems you worthy of, but then, off that a subset again according to what Mogul’s team deems of interest.

You get what you pay for I guess.

Owen goes on to say:

“Why haven’t these apps seen mass adoption? Well, for one, a lot of publishers are willing to experiment with allowing their content to be aggregated in a paid bundle, but they have little incentive to direct their marketing efforts toward promoting the app.”

Yes, and why would they? They’re in the business of driving subscribers to their own product, not a third party app which bundles them alongside competitors and makes a margin for the effort.

The Netflix comparison holds some water, but there is a big difference. Log in to Netflix and you’ll see plenty of Netflix original content. This is a vast investment the company is making to get punters to sign on—by offering material that is not available anywhere else. And people are signing up by the truckload. Why would publishers release exclusive material to a third party app?

This is why the future for news subscriptions lies in a bundle of one, not many.