Online Subscriptions: Can Shortcovers Do What NY Times Can't?

Back when the web was just the web and 2.0 was just a glimmer in the mind’s eye of Timothy Berners-Lee, newspapers tried to get people to pay for content online. Various models were used but the one that sticks out in my head is the “free for a day, pay for the archives” model which some periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal, still use.

In these dark times for newspapers, the notion of trying to resurrect or just erect this model is coming back. The NY Times recently sent out a survey to its audience asking if they would be willing to pay as much as $5/month to access online content for all stories.

Two major behaviour patterns threaten this transition. First, we’re just not in the habit of paying for what we view online. There are so few types of content that require a fee/subscription/even a log-in these days and it feels more like we’re moving away from barriers to access than towards them.

Two, perhaps even more important, with the wildfire-like spread of instant communication systems like the ubiquitous Twitter, and the resulting information spreading siege, we’re really used to sharing, sharing, sharing. Restricting the ability to deliver interesting news articles and headlines to our networks serves to make the information itself less valuable. Online content is the currency of connection and limiting the way this can be spread undercuts one of the primary functions of reading news in the first place.

Apply this model to books, however, and I think there’s a lot more room to maneuver. I’ve made this argument before in this very blog but we’re not yet used to getting books for free and it’s not easy to distill the essence of a book (or a publisher’s entire list) into a 140 character tweet.

A subscription model for eBooks has a lot of advantages. The time-starvation we hear so much makes it difficult to spend hours browsing for books but we still want to find cool new stuff. Trusting one publisher or retailer (or one vertical, if it comes to that) to deliver the book of the month digitally automatically takes away the work of discovery and allows for exciting surprises. Recommendations based on past purchases and eventually the reader’s reviews wouldn’t be hard to put together.

Is this something that would work for online bookstores like Stanza or Shortcovers? Could it open up the digital reading space for publishers still trying to find their readers? The polls are openwhat do you think?