Flicking through a copy of the new daily paper i yesterday, I was distinctly underwhelmed. I really wanted to like i, but I couldn’t. Apart from having a silly title, it looked cheap and the content veered between patronising bite-size featurettes and bland news coverage.
For me though, i’s fatal flaw is its 20p price tag. It’s pitched strongly at the ‘time-poor’ – putting it in direct competition (in London at least) with the free Evening Standard and Metro, which target commuters.
The problem is that the price issue is not just about cost, it’s about convenience. It’s not that people will hold on to their 20p so they can spend it on 1/3 of a Mars Bar or 1/50 of a DVD, it’s that the paid-for model means you have to make the decision to pay for the thing, find someone who’s selling it, pick one up, get out your wallet, pay your money, take your change. What if you can’t find your wallet? What if you can’t be bothered to queue in the shop? What if there is no shop? What if you’re ‘time-poor’?
This all means there is a far, far bigger difference between 0p and 20p than there is between 20p and £1. Even though 20p is hardly anything, the need to make a conscious decision and actually hand over money for the thing is a barrier that I think has been underestimated. I’m no big fan of the freesheets, but they are successful because they’re so disposable. They are thrust in front of us in the street, we grab them without even breaking stride, and we might not even open them up before dumping them on the tube – who cares? They cost us no money, no time, no effort and no thought (they do cost us environmentally, I’m sure, but that’s another story).
The iTunes Store shows how convenience can trump price. There was a time when people said that online piracy would kill paid-for music. Now, a few years later, iTunes shifts billion upon billions of tracks at a pound a pop. 99p is infinitely more than 0p, but if you can pay it in a single click, and have the song in a few seconds (rather than scouring the web for it and watching it trickle in over several hours, only to turn out to be a low-quality copy of the wrong song), then you’re on to a winner. But it’s hard to see how paid-for print media can match that.