News outlets have been struggling to monetise the content they've been giving away online for free for many years now. Since I visit the Herald Sun and Fox Sports websites quite frequently, in a moment of weakness I purchased a subscription — all that nagging works unfortunately.
Don't be fooled though, it turns out not all News+ subscriptions are created equal. With the promise of purchasing a subscription and enjoying anywhere on any device, I downloaded the Herald Sun iPad app and purchased my first month.
First mistake. After attempting a login attempt at their website later, I was told I didn't even exist. Luckily they have a support team, unfortunately that costs you a phone call (not a support ticket) where I was informed that iPad app subscriptions are iPad app-only.
Why, who knows?
There's a compelling argument to be made by News Limited in Australia to package their content and sell you a subscription. But instead of being a content producing powerhouse that outputs to various media platforms — it's siloed nonsense where old media rams its stilted content down a digital pipe.
On that app…
The iPad is not a new device and digital versions of printed publications being generally terrible is not a new complaint. The Herald Sun app is terrible.
It falls into the common trap of pretending it's a newspaper. Multi-column layouts with narrow columns of text. Non-selectable text. Downright bizarre navigation. No portrait mode!
One common complaint amongst digital publications is huge download sizes for each edition. To work around this you need to download each section of the paper individually, but not concurrently. Meaning each section of the 'paper' lives and dies by the thumbnail you're presented with. Do you want to download the entire 'Confidential' section just because Jennifer Hawkins said something? 17MB later it could be yours … but not until you're finished downloading the sport section.
Stuck in the past
News websites and apps were pretty terrible when they were free. They're now terrible but nag you into buying a subscription. Not good enough. There's no value-add here.
The major problem in all of this is the feeling like you're buying a newspaper. The exact thing that is failing in print is being forced onto a screen where it's generating no traction either.
The Herald Sun should stop acting like a newspaper and start acting like a content producer. The same goes for all websites across their network.
Where News+ should have the edge is the generation of quality content served in a quality format. There's a really appealing version of News+ in my imagination where Fox Sports videos and Herald Sun AFL stories are served within an amazing application which quickly and smartly presents the information I want.
There should be a singular News+ app that collates absolutely everything across the network and allows you to browse it as you please. Not by downloading sections or waiting 24 hours for the next 'edition'. Live, regular, relevant content across every channel of the network.
Instead a subscription grants you access to a disparate and disconnected smorgasbord of websites and apps of varying quality and interest to the consumer.
It feels as though no lessons have been learnt by these organisations that have taken a sledgehammer approach to charging for content. One of the major selling points on the News+ sales page is that you can get a printed paper in your subscription. Newsflash: nobody wants your paper, that's why they're buying online subscriptions. You're selling black and white televisions as a value add to a new colour TV.
The problem isn't that people won't pay for content, they just won't pay for a crummy user experience.