I’m eager to pay for quality news online. Now, who wants my money?

Monday June 19 2017

By NANJIRA SAMBULI
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The case for consuming digital media is no longer one to try and convince people about.

It’s the present, and the future.

The real-time, numerous options from which we can select is a far cry from a mere decade ago and traditional and new media entities alike are now aligning their businesses to this reality.

What, though, can be said of the quality of content online and the platforms through which we are plugging into the information superhighways of the internet? What do these factors bode for the local online content ecosystem?

How are we assigning value to, and signalling demand for the content we like or would like to be supplied online?

The most straightforward, but seemingly difficult value system to translate online, is money. Put differently, what local content would you, a frequent user of the internet, be willing to pay for? If none, why is that the case?

WILLINGNESS TO INVEST

The blessing and curse of the internet regarding content creation and consumption is that while pretty much anyone can create this content, leading to varied offerings on the media buffet, we have grown accustomed to consuming content ‘for free’.

The accepted investments in the pipeline would be your device(s) to connect, and the internet bundles or access plans. When it comes to the content itself – be it print, video, audio – it is somehow normalised that it should be provided to us at no cost.

So, in this ecosystem, device manufacturers and distributors, the telecoms and internet service providers, and the social media platforms make a killing off your investment to connect to and consume off the internet. The social media apps you like may be free, but you, dear reader, are the product!

Why does our willingness to invest in the online experience seemingly stop at the content level? Is it because there isn’t enough ‘good content’ to pay for or does it also relate to how we value creativity and its outputs, both in the analogue and digital realms?

Books, film, music and art evoke different perceptions with various generations of Kenyans. Take books, which ideally inculcate long-form reading.  

For some, books were those nuisances one reluctantly indulged to pass exams. Books take a back seat in their lives the moment one is done with the education system.

CURATED CONTENT

Text-based content is still the most ubiquitous kind on the internet today, but video is gaining ground quickly, so is audio.

Now with the internet, you can consume a (couple of) tweet(s) or Facebook post(s) quoting a book, and think you have the gist of its contents, and make you sound well-read and informed in social banter. This trend, which has been called the rising tide of educated alliteracy, is quite the phenomenon.

It’s in turn complicating the online media business - be it for traditional media establishments, blogs or other digital/new media entities outside the big (and Western) social media platforms to which we all flock.

Would-be consumers of well-produced, curated content in text or other format expecting to consume it for free greatly diminishes the prospects of actually charging to access this content, as it was with, say, traditional newspapers.

It also has implications for the quality of content produced, which is often sacrificed for quantity. 

The major dailies in Kenya offer e-paper versions of their newspapers, but without much public data on uptake, it’s hard to tell how those are faring. Admittedly, even I have not subscribed to any of these, simply because I continue to decry the quality of journalism in our dailies.

PAY FOR WHAT YOU READ

Yet, I am eager to invest in a subscription, to assign value to the content I’m consuming online, to tip my hat to content creators, indicate demand for local content and offer an alternative way to generate revenue.

There are quite a number of local online content creators whose sites I would gladly subscribe to for a fee. The quality speaks for itself, and by consuming it, I am drawn to appreciate the hard work that goes into putting out masterpiece after masterpiece.

To survive this rather harsh reality, online content creators are forced to generate web traffic by any means necessary, against which they can sell ads. Others rely on sponsorships to parade different products and services leveraging their online following.

While those are ‘hacks’ off which to eke a living, we have to ask why the good old ‘pay for what you read, watch, listen to’ model is yet to take off in the online space. (For context, how many ads have you had to scroll past to read this blog?).

This past week, I have been asking my peers via various social media channels if there are any local content news and entertainment sites for which they would elect for a paid subscription. I have received interesting responses.

And so I ask again, dear reader: What locally produced online content are you, or would you be, willing to pay for? Share in the comments section below.