Why do people still pay to subscribe to magazines, journals, websites and newspapers?

For some time, to subscribe, one has entered an email address or added the website as an RSS feed for an endless stream of online articles and posts. I subscribe to about a thousand websites using FeedlyIn another sense, we subscribe by clicking ‘like’ or ‘follow’ to get automatically updated information streams via Facebook and Twitter. In this context, many, quite understandably, are not prepared to pay for articles in newspapers and magazines when so much is available for free.

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Why then do we pay for some subscriptions? I can only answer for myself and thought I’d take the time to post about my subscriptions and consumption of news, entertainment and other information.


News and Current Affairs

It is important to have a balanced flow of daily news and current affairs. My tax contribution is my subscription to our national broadcaster and it is a trusted source of news and current affairs. In my life, every federal government has grown annoyed with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at some stage and this is very reassuring as having an effective fourth estate is fundamental for a democracy. Just In is excellent for keeping one up to date, minute by minute, and I always have this tab open on my browser (I never listen to the radio). I do watch the ABC TV News and The 7.30 Report will be kept on if the guest or story is interesting. The SBS TV News is always watched for an international perspective if I am home at 6.30pm.

Perhaps it is tenuous to suggest that I subscribe to the ABC and SBS via taxes but it is broadly an accurate description. Other news sources required the physical and financial effort to actually pay for a subscription. It is important to have a balance of perspectives so I have paid subscriptions across the political spectrum to mainstream sources like the Murdoch/NewsCorp owned newspaper, The Australian and from FairfaxThe Sydney Morning Herald plus a local newspaper, The Illawarra MercuryI have not read a print copy of newspaper since last decade and read all these online. I also read The Guardian but do not have a paid subscription.

It is important to support independent media sources outside the mainstream to encourage diversity. I have subscribed to New Matilda and Crikey for over a decade. I rarely visit their websites but read the email version. The long form of journalism has made a comeback in recent years with quality journalism from The Atlantic, Huffington Post and The New Yorker. These ‘longreads‘ are an antidote to the hyperbole of news grabs, political spin and the low attention news cycle. The Saturday Paper is a relatively new Australian player on the scene from Morry Schwartz that has these longer articles about the news of the week and I have subscribed to the online version since inception. I particularly like the music and book reviews. This quote sums up their ambition and belief:

We believe newspapers are not dead, they just stopped doing their job well. 

On the political spectrum, The Australian is the most “right-wing” of the sources I read and New Matilda, the most “left-wing”. However, the political landscape, compared to the 1970s when I first started consuming news, has swung so far to the right that we do not rarely have what is truly left of centre journalism except from occasional pieces by John Pilger. Crikey, which itself is often very socially libertarian and anti-establishment, published a “bias-o-meter” back in 2007 that still seems about right except that Fairfax has headed back the other way (you’ll need to read the last link).

Why do I subscribe to all of the above? Encouraging a diverse fourth estate in Australia is one very important reason but also, frustration at not being able to access articles of interest is another. For example, The Weekend Australian has very good book reviews which are subscriber only. Australians need Australian sources of news and current affairs. We should pay to ensure the fourth estate is strong. At this point I could make some commentary about our system and how the media is a player who does not always serve the citizen or democratic state but will save that for another post. 😉

Magazines and Journals

The only print copy subscription that arrives in my post (except for several family history society journals) is the absolutely excellent New PhilosopherIt is a beautiful magazine and the only philosophy magazine published in Australia. I subscribe to support this venture and feel happy when the magazine arrives in the mail. Professionally, I have used some of the wisdom with students and one small A4 poster resounds with many who are looking to find their way.

Rules for Happiness

Schwartz Media has an impressive stable of publications. I have already mentioned their weekly newspaper and have subscribed to The Monthly since the beginning. First in hard copy and in recent years, on my iPad. Quarterly Essay is essential reading for Australians and I have written recently about the excellent pieces by Karen Hitchcock and David Kilcullen during the first half of this year.

For a long time I subscribed to Quadrant (from when Robert Manne was editor) but found it hard to stomach some of the essays about Aboriginal issues that were being published at the beginning of the century and it got to the stage I could no longer support such extremism from one author who went on to become the editor in 2007. These ‘History Wars’ continue and I am happy to read opposing views when they are written with integrity. I always enjoyed, albeit through gritted teeth, the provocative pieces by Padraic McGuinness because of his intellect and autodidacticism. It is important to read a variety of views but not possible to support, financially, such a concerted effort to undermine Aboriginal people and their supporters politically at a time where the Prime Minister refused to say ‘sorry’!

In recent years I have subscribed to Family Tree Magazine and Black+White Photography (Facebook page) on my iPad. There have been a number of other family history magazines that have fallen by the wayside but I like both of these. They both have a strong editorial direction and presence.

Music, TV and Film

The arrival of the internet and World Wide Web facilitated sharing of music, television and film in a way that challenged conventional notions of copyright and ownership. There have been countless articles and books written about piracy, copyright P2P networks and ethical or legal considerations since the 1990s but recently, much has changed. Low cost subscription services make it less profitable for individuals to bother with piracy. Tools like Sonos are fantastic innovations for listening to music easily at home when used in concert with Spotify and a range of other free and paid services. I am more than happy to subscribe for such a streaming service and am trialling Apple Music too, although it does not yet connect to my Sonos speakers, which is a deal-breaker.

1.5 million Australians have flocked to video-streaming service Netflix since it arrived here. Of course, many were already using it by bypassing geolocation locks. The service works well with Apple TV and my free subscription month will result in becoming a paying customer. Not once has here been buffering or connection issues. The only issue, the lack of Australian content but more often than not, that can be streamed legally from iView or SBS.

Social Media, Video Games and VPNs

One wonders what would happen if some of the popular social media tools, that basically make the user the product, started charging. I suspect that many would pay for Facebook and Twitter rather than lose the service and connections. I doubt this will ever happen though. I tried a paid subscription to APP.NET but let it lapse as I just seemed to rarely use it. The clients were not great and there was a general lack of engagement. I now have a free account. 

Diigo is an important tool for social bookmarking and I am happy pay subscription fees partly as I was so happy with the way the tool saved me when Delicious went pear-shaped. I pay for Yahoo (and still have my first email account ever from 1997) and Flickr happily.

I once played online video games but must admit, that in the last couple of years, have found them unsatisfying and pretty much stopped playing. The most recent subscription was The Elder Scrolls Online which the whole family was playing. We all loved Skyrim on PS3 but never really became enthusiastic about this next instalment and allowed our subscription to lapse.

Many people have subscribed to VPNs for security and privacy. I first used Witopia when travelling overseas to access Australian content and feel safer browsing via cafe and hotel wifi. It can be employed on smartphone, tablet and laptop. I tried some others but Witopia has always been reliable.

What was your first subscription?

As a kid I liked magazines and often had subscriptions and it was great when the mail arrived, often with a quite battered copy, each month of my favourites. In mid-primary school during the late 1970s I liked the interesting articles in a high quality magazine called, Look and LearnThere were many historical pieces which were particularly interesting for me, along with articles about nature and science. I did not really register how British this mag was as pretty much everything I was reading was British. Australian content was severely limited. At this time I read countless already old-fashioned books, especially series’ like Biggles, Famous Five, William and Jennings, as well as Dr Who novelisations, so nothing seemed out of place.


What subscriptions do you deem worth money nowadays?


Featured Image: flickr photo by MikeBlogs shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license


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