Two big things happened last week. I was hospitalized for exhaustion and dehydration, which meant I stayed in bed and watched Netflix more than usual, and I met with my academic advisor and decided to major in journalism. I began to wonder if an aggregation service could revolutionize journalism as Netflix has done for television. The journalism industry’s problems are so well established that a friend of mine made a dress out of old newspapers smeared with fake blood last Halloween, calling herself the death of print media. A Netflix for journalism where people pay for on-demand access to content from several providers could give journalism a surge.
The Pew Research Center reports that the number of Americans reading print newspapers continues to fall. In 2012, only 23 percent of Americans said they regularly read a print newspaper, falling from 41 percent in the previous decade. Worse for the industry’s future, research has found that print media readership is lowest among young people — the demographic most likely to have a Netflix subscription. For a flat fee, Netflix users can access TV shows and movies from many distributors, such as Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema and the BBC. Compare this to the current state of journalism subscriptions: If a reader wants to subscribe to Wired, The New York Times and The New Yorker, they pay a separate fee for each publication — even if the same distributor publishes multiple magazines.
The app doing the most interesting work in this arena is Flipboard. With it, users select topics they are interested in, such as fashion, marketing and technology, and the app shows articles related to those topics. The app also allows readers to see articles from specific content sources, such as ESPN. However, users still need an existing paid subscription to read certain articles. A more efficient model for reading news online might be for a service to negotiate with newspapers directly, allowing consumers to read stories from various sources for one price. Readers would pay only for that service, not for each individual subscription.
It is clearly time to examine alternate distribution models. Given that most major newspapers are published by only a handful of media corporations, the industry is ripe for centralized distribution. If consumers could pay a flat fee to access quality journalism from several sources, the industry could be rejuvenated. The current model is clunky and overly complex — some news outlets have a paywall, others offer subscription-only content. To survive, the journalism industry needs to streamline. It is time for media conglomerates to acknowledge this and innovate.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 18 print edition. E-mail Tommy Collison at [email protected]