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Twitter can fix journalism's painful paywall problem

I’m as keen as anyone for journalism to become financially sustainable again.

But every time I click an interesting link in a tweet and smash up against an inflexible paywall, my heart rather sinks.

It’s a prime example of an interface challenge for an imperfect system. And crucially, it stems incoming traffic and good will.

So here’s a freebie that could generate more revenue for good quality journalism and improve the user experience, all linked to a key revenue-related motivation for Twitter that could usher it into the highest pantheon of tech giants. But more on that later.

A better way to pay

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for Wired about the opportunity for Amazon to introduce an official Kindle ‘read later’ button (think Instapaper/ Pocket) that would let anyone save articles to digest offline.

This would quickly propagate a little widget next to a whole swathe of online content at which point, they could flip the switch and let any writer turn it into a trigger to pay.

For most readers, this would create a ‘1-click’ purchase, automatically using their registered credit card.

It could easily link into an area on Amazon.com, highlighting the most consumed articles, videos etc. Lots of companies have tried to achieve permutations of this but I think Amazon is pretty uniquely placed to nail it.

Second time lucky

Anyway, clearly Bezos has scorned my vision. So, this brings me to how Twitter could achieve a similar purpose.

Twitter Cards are becoming more and more common, offering an ‘Action + Caption’ dynamic that lends itself to whole new leagues of flexibility. Summary cards, Player cards, Product cards, the formula is the same: a key asset (action) and 140 char (caption.)

Many publishers have already activated simple Twitter Cards for their articles, with the resulting effect that whenever anyone tweets a link, followers see a short summary, often a photo and info about the outlet. So, why not turn these into little card that let me pay to read it?

It doesn’t need to be as basic as me judging after 140char whether I want to pay. But how about if I click that link, I get a preview of the article and can tap again to buy the full thing.

Or how about if I have a subscription, I can just link that into Twitter. How about I get the option to subscribe if the system senses I’ve clicked 5 stories from that source in the last month?

The T connection

Better experience for readers, leads and revenue for the media (plus likely more shares once people realise they won’t just be frustrating their followers), so what’s in it for Twitter?

To achieve this convenience for you, they will need you to register a payment card.

And so, they will join the top tier of tech companies with Apple, Google and Amazon who can instantly make you pay for things.

This is so pivotal to the potential of things like product buy cards and other features that must be in the roadmap, that its value can’t be underestimated. What better way to encourage people to sign up than the idea they’ll be able to support writers they love with small contributions of cash here and there.

Because indeed, it should be available to anyone. I find myself more and more enamoured with the work of people like Ben Thompson at Stratechery, who have the balls to create their own apparatus to let fans support them. There are too few direct ways to become a patron to great work and that needs to change.

If it’s Twitter’s self interest that gets us there, so be it.

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