Why Did We Lose Newspapers’ Single Copy in the Digital World?

There used to be two ways to read a news article — buy a subscription or buy a “Single Copy” of the newspaper at the newsstand. These two options gave the reader a choice about how to consume the news, and each’s value proposition was easy to understand and manage for both the reader and the publisher.

The purchase process was equally straightforward. To subscribe, you mailed in a check or gave it to your paperboy/papergirl. Otherwise, you’d go to a newsstand on the corner, put some change in and grab a paper. That was it — two direct revenue streams for publishers, two options for the readers. Everyone got it.

Today, of course, all that has changed — not only do consumers now obtain virtually all their news digitally, but traditional print media have to provide a 24/7 news cycle. While readers expect immediate access to news and journalism in the digital format, the publishing industry is still in transition from a print to a digital business model. Online, publishers for the most part rely on only one direct revenue model — the subscription. The single copy has been lost.

Here at LaterPay, we propose to bring the single copy back in the form of a 24-hour pass to a publication’s entire website or app. Think of it as a “Digital Single Copy.” This lets the reader see all a paper has to offer and generates revenue in a way that is familiar to consumers. We encourage papers to continue to offer the gold-standard subscriptions, limit or harden their metered paywalls, and offer a 24-hour pass — the Digital Single Copy — to their sites.

The value of a publication is not the printing or distribution of the physical paper, but instead the quality of its journalism. That’s why we also propose to keep subscription prices where they are and to charge the same amount for the Digital Single Copy as is charged for the newsstand single copy. Keep it that simple.

You ask, “But why would I take the time to create a username, password and enter my credit card just to pay $1.50 to access the paper’s website for a day?” That is where LaterPay comes in.

LaterPay provides an elegant way for readers to purchase the news they want — with very little effort or friction. Readers simply confirm that they will agree to pay for their purchase later, and they can then access it immediately. As they continue to access content, they run a virtual tab across publishers, and when that tab hits $5.00, we ask them to pay. When paying later, readers repurchase 2–2.5 times the rate over prepay. And it’s important to note that this revenue is both incremental and supplemental to subscription income, and it comes from the 80% of readers who were unlikely to subscribe to begin with.

Will it cannibalize subscriptions? Our publishing partners have confirmed that it does not — just like newsstands didn’t cannibalize newspaper subscriptions in the time of the paperboy.

It’s time to bring back the single copy for today’s digital world, returning a source of revenue that proved a valuable supplement to subscriptions in the halcyon days of print media. The trick, as is key with all things in the digital world, is to make the experience as seamless and frictionless as possible for the user. That’s why publishers are turning to LaterPay and the Digital Single Copy.