Alan Mutter has confirmed that he was one of three people who made a presentation at the 'secret' newspaper executives' meeting in Chicago last week. The product he was discussing, which he has developed in conjunction with tech entrepreneur Ridgely Evers is ViewPass: a single, industry-owned brand that would enable consumers to access paid content on websites and mobile platforms from all participating publishers.
Mutter compared ViewPass to a Visa card, and clarified that it would consist of a "simple, one-time registration system that would remember users as they moved among participating websites." It would support micropayments, subscriptions and bundles of content, similar to Journalism Online. "To address the concern that many consumers may rebel against pay walls," reads the document given to publishers at the meeting, obtained by NiemanLab, ViewPass also gives publishers the option of letting users "pay" for content with time or information rather than just cash.
ViewPass would build a user profile both from information which they themselves supply and by tracking what content they view. The system's "greatest value would be the data it assembled on each individual consumer," believes Mutter, because such data would mean that publishers could sell highly targeted advertising space at premium rates. He suggested that such "enriched customer data" could enable publishers to more than double their ad rates (and hence make it worth letting consumers view much content free.) It would complement rather than compete with existing ad networks, he added.
Mutter envisages ViewPass as an industry-owned "co-operative type of structure," meaning that as well as enhanced revenue, newspapers could also share in the profits of the business itself. This would clearly be preferable, Mutter thinks, to working with a collection of third-party vendors who would also be trying to make a profit. Including this revenue, "we believe the industry could rapidly triple its online margins" with ViewPass, Mutter wrote.
The two other presentations at the meeting were by Steve Brill from Journalism Online and Jim Pitkow of Attributor. Mutter seems relatively positive about Attributor's proposal, suggesting that ViewPass could work with "a partner like Attributor" to track content. However, he argued that ViewPass would take a "more positive approach to copyright compliance" because by welcoming the broadest number of websites into the system, each participating site would be motivated to respect each other's copyright.
Mutter is not so positive about Journalism Online, however, even though it and ViewPass do not appear too dissimilar. He describes Brill's start-up's approach as "a concerted campaign to force consumers to subscribe to online content after some 15 years of getting it for free," and says that this will lead to a "substantial" loss of traffic. But as ViewPass would include ways to charge consumers, it is difficult to see how it is different, apart from the fact that ViewPass would include as many publishers as possible in the same payment system.
Apparently the ViewPass system could be launched within nine months for a total investment of approximately $6 million. Its focus on developing targeted advertising in conjunction with paywalls seems wise, although presumably this is counting on the advertising market not falling further. It sounds remarkably similar to a idea proposed by Bill Densmore, the Information Valet, which has evolved into CircLabs. There will not be room for many of these ventures in the paid online content market: which will triumph?