Newspapers: They just don’t want you to pay, it seems.

I didn’t think I would ever agree with an executive from the Axel Springer publishing company. But today, I did – at least kind of.

Earlier this week I attended a panel discussion on related rights. There has been a discussion going on in Germany for some times, started by newspaper publishers that are lobbying for the introduction of related rights for newspaper publishers. My boss Markus Beckedahl (I’m currently doing an internship at newthinking communications, in case you’re wondering), who was on the panel, has written it up here (in German).

The Axel Springer AG has been one of the publishing companies pressing for said related rights, so its concern director for public affairs, Christoph Keese, represented it on the panel. Keese did make a fool of himself because he could not exactly explain what he was lobbying about, but he did say something reasonable:

“There wont be a working market for journalistic products without a one-click solution.”

Today, I was in the perfect situation to experience what he meant. One of my favorite journalists, Heribert Prantl, has interviewed Germany’s new interior minister, Thomas de Maizière. The newspaper’s online version published snippets of the interview that sounded quite interesting, so I wanted to get hold of the real thing.

“Read the whole interview in Saturday’s edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung”, it said below the summary. I tried to find a way to purchase the article online, but did not find any reasonable option (you can get an epaper, but the minimum is a month’s subscription). Which left me with two options: Find a kiosk and buy the paper (it was 9 pm by then), or pirate it.

Now, usually I would not have come to the point where I have to make such a decision. Not only because most content is available online for free, but also because there are not many articles that are “must haves”. But this one was done by Prantl, so I would have paid for it. That I still tried to get hold of the interview when I realized they would not let me pay for it (at least online), and finally left the house and spent 40 minutes to get it from a kiosk, was only due to the fact that I wanted to write about it for gulli:news (I did here (in German)).

I think at this point it is clear why the way the Süddeutsche Zeitung is doing it can’t be but wrong. It’s the ultimate turn-off for any casual reader. But how could it be done better? As Keese says, a one-click solution that makes it easy for me as a reader to access paid content is a must have.

What would this one-click solution look like? There are several things we can already say about it. First of all, there needs to be an easy way to do micropayments (I would not pay more than a few cents for newspaper articles on a regular basis – I consume at least 100 blog entries per day. If I paid just 10 cents for each, that would exceed my rent).

Then, paid content needs to be integrated into the link economy, i.e. it needs to be searchable and linkable (Süddeutsche Zeitung’s epaper is delivered as a PDF, which means subscribers can’t point others to individual articles).

Behind the pay wall, access needs to be unlimited. Any kind of DRM – like restricting requests of the article to a certain number of times – is a no-go: If I pay for content, I do not want to be constrained in its use. Just as I may do what I want with the newspaper I got at a kiosk, I don’t want anybody to interfere with my use of paid online content.

Now there’s a reason I don’t use iTunes, either: I don’t want to download a software to be able to pay for music. I don’t say there shall not be such a thing. But just as you may or may not use a shopping cart at the super market, I don’t want to be forced to download Apple’s software.

Now that I’ve written up this list, I can’t but wonder why publishing companies like Springer are lobbying for related right instead of just letting me pay for their content. Until then, I will either get it for free – or ignore it behind pay walls that for absurd reasons were built without doors.