Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Why The Athletic is the Only News Paywall Worth Paying For

How many times have you seen a post on Facebook or Twitter that links to a news outlet? For this example, let’s say the news outlet is the Wall Street Journal. You’re intrigued. You click on the link and you start to read the article. You get one paragraph in and then BOOM – you’re presented with a call to action to log in or signup for an account.

If you’re like most people, at this point you click the back button. Paywalls are incredibly ineffective but are still widely implemented. The general belief from studies is that:

For most print media firms, the net effect of a paywall on digital sales is negative, as digital subscription revenue is offset by a significant decrease in digital advertising revenue due to reduced website visits.

In addition to paywalls, media outlets are becoming an echo chamber for your political ideology. The chasm between “red” and “blue” news outlets has grown and with it, the distrust from readers. This Pew study outlines it really well:

As an N of 1, I can tell you that I’m less invested than ever before in reading and consuming news. The hyper-partisan tone means I need to read at least two versions of the same story to feel informed enough to have a point of view. Additionally, I’m less and less entertained. I think this comes from the lack of quality in the people who are writing these stories.

Ok – The Athletic. Why should you pay $10 a month or $60 a year for their content? Here’s 5 reasons why – but, to be clear, you have to be interested in sports. The Athletic is a sports news publisher. So, if you’re looking for information about The Bachelor, changes to laws, or election coverage, look elsewhere.

  1. There is no “blue” or “red” slant. Well, unless, you’re talking about Manchester City vs. Manchester United. The content you get is factual, leverages data, and presented without bias. Even the “beat” writers for a team aren’t partisan. Sam Lee, who drafts most of the content for Manchester City, isn’t even a Manchester City fan!
  2. The best writers and reporters work for and produce content for The Athletic. For baseball you have Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Ken Rosenthal. You’ll get David Aldridge and John Hollinger for basketball. The afore mentioned Sam Lee, in addition to Michael Kay and Sam Stejskal. The list goes on an on. If you will – imagine only reading books from the best authors or watching movies from the best directors; sounds great, right?
  3. They don’t focus on “breaking news.” Yes, they cover news of the day and trending topics. But, you won’t see 2 paragraph “stories” announcing a trade. They have made a clear decision to emphasize quality over quantity.
  4. The Athletic is fully customizable and cross-platform. You pick the sports, the leagues, the teams, and yes, the writers. A custom feed is built for you based on those choices. Desktop, mobile, tablet, app – it doesn’t matter. You get a great reading experience regardless of how you choose to read.
  5. While I’ve emphasized the writing, The Athletic offers far more than just articles and stories. There are podcasts, videos, and chat rooms/discussion rooms. Again, many of these are specific to YOUR interests. I can listed to a Manchester City podcast, and watch videos specific to the University of North Carolina.

Let me be clear, The Athletic is not paying me for this. But, their approach to content is simply worth talking about. The one thing I haven’t mentioned at all to this point, but is yet another reason to spend $60 a year for a subscription – there are NO ads. None. No pre-rolls. No interstitials. Nothing stopping you or interrupting you from consuming the content you’re interested in.

Nothing is perfect, not even The Athletic. There’s one feature I feel like they should add – a section called From the Fans. Here’s how it would work:

  1. Let fans submit pieces for consideration
  2. Eventually have a small group of consistent fan contributors and…
  3. …A consistent pool of new perspectives
  4. They could narrow the scope and focus of submissions to being Season Previews, Game/Match Reviews, Mid-Year Perspective, End of Season Feelings, etc.

But, if that’s the opportunity for improvement, it gives you an idea of how good The Athletic is. They’re setting the stage for how a modern news website can succeed and succeed with a paywall.