Monday, September 05, 2011

The “App Store” of Text

A couple of weeks ago, Albert recommended “The Information” on his blog. 5 clicks, and a few seconds later, I was already reading the book on my phone. (And once I had finished the free sample chapter, it took me only two more clicks to purchase the book and continue reading!!)
5 clicks and I had the book! This wasn’t the first kindle book I had read, nor the first review I clicked on, but I was suddenly struck at how easy Amazon had made it to buy and read books. And it made me think of a few of the many reasons why the iphone / ipod touch / ipad app store has been so successful:
1. Apple made it super easy to buy apps (and for developers to sell them.)
2. Apps were relatively cheap. (I remember when my son wanted to buy the FIFA Soccer game on the PSP a few years ago, it cost CHF50+, while the ipod touch app was only a few bucks.)
Before the apple app store, so called "apps" were stuck between being either free on the internet or too expensive on game consoles. The app store created that middle ground, where apps could be bought (ie they were not always free) but they were still relatively cheap, and they were all only a couple of click away. Cheap and Easy: That expanded the market tremendously and the rest is history.
It strikes me that news content has also been stuck between “free” and “too expensive” for a long time now. And content providers have only been able to play with the price lever, because it is hard for any one content provider to make it easy enough to buy text content.
Sometimes I come across a link to interesting content behind pay walls - an article in a magazine or newspaper, or an in-depth analysis on a blog, or even a recommended academic paper. I would like to read these, and I would be willing to pay something for that content. But to access the text, I am forced to go through the pain of registering on a web site, or paying for a subscription, all of which is way too painful. Imagine how successful the app store would have been if you were forced to buy a subscription to multiple apps every time you thought of downloading one $0.99 app! The same goes with "text" content. I would be willing to pay for it, but I would be willing to invest only so much time, clicks and money to access each article. I don't want to subscribe or even register to read an article I just found –it’s just too difficult, and so I move on to other free content on the web.
But if I was only a couple of clicks away from those texts, I would certainly be far more tempted to pay for the access.
This must be a huge opportunity for Amazon - to sell individual articles by all major publications and many a blog. I can’t believe that my only options on Amazon kindle today are to buy full subscriptions or a full magazine. What nonsense! When I reach the "free summary" web-page of a pay-wall article, I want a “read this on Kindle” button, offering me to download the article in a few seconds and only a couple of clicks, for say $0.09 cents for a news article or a few bucks for research. But I don't want to enter credit card details or even sign in using Google or Facebook or what have you. I am only willing to spend a couple of clicks of time.
Text content providers (newspapers, magazines, blogs etc) have been struggling for so long to find the right balance between providing free link-able content, and being paid for their good work. But they are still stuck between free and too-expensive. And they have not yet adapted to the distributed world of online content, where people don't necessarily want to be forced to "subscribe", whatever the price. It's not easy to subscribe!
Someone has to experiment with an App Store for text, making individual articles and research cheap and easy to access. And Amazon is probably the one big company in an ideal position to do just that.