November 4th, 2017

My Thoughts on The Athletic and it’s Subscription Model

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I had never heard of “The Athletic” before Ken Rosenthal turned to it as his written home. However, when the most prominent baseball reporter goes there, it becomes a household name. Unfortunately, a lot of the coverage and thoughts on The Athletic have been negative.

Take this tweet from The 7 Line:

As you can see, Ken tweeted out an article giving a behind the scenes look at the Game 7 marriage proposal that had everyone talking. It turned out that it wasn’t any other proposal, it was war-gamed out, down the the question. Unfortunately, the only part of the article that was readable was the first 3 sentences, to read the rest, you had to be a subscriber.

The paywall, the border that divides readers and written content; it’s the SirusXM of print, and yet, un-like it’s radio counterpart, angers people every day.

Take the Athletic, which, partially thanks to Ken, has grown in popularity. It has two subscription models, it has an annual (at a cheaper price point) and a monthly option.

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That’s $8 per month, or $3 if you lock yourself in for a year. Meet somewhere in the middle at $5, and you are paying $60 a year to read about baseball.

Not to bad, you say, $60 isn’t horrible, but then you realize that you don’t just like baseball, you like your favorite food blog, and your travel site, and your news sites, and, don’t forget about the local paper. That is close to a $400 annual fee, just to read. 

Is $400 ridiculous for everyone? No, but to a lot of people, it’s too much, and regular, non-premium written content should be affordable, and more importantly accessible. Sure, it’s just a few sites now, but what happens in the future, when written content goes the way of streaming television shows, or airline seat & bag fees? This a-la carte model is a greedy way to grab readers, and is makes it difficult for readers to get the entire spectrum of content from different readers from different sites.

I completely understand that monetization through ad revenue isn’t doing enough in terms of returns to the writers, and it’s causing local papers to fall day after day, but blocking out readers entirely is not the correct path, and a line has to be drawn.

I can tell you that I would never put up a paywall, but I’m just a blogger that does this as a hobby. And, yes, I can see myself looking at other options if this was my livelihood, and ad revenue was no longer paying the bills.

So, this is a true turning point in online journalism, one that will have repercussions for years, and one, that, like many other problems in our society, might not have a feasible answer that appeases to all sides.