ViewPass: A backwards monetization idea

Alan Mutter, the newspaper man turned Silicon Valley CEO who has a terrific blog about journalism called Newsosaur, came clean over the weekend about having been one of three parties who made a presentation to the hush-hush summit meeting of newspaper executives in Chicago last week.

Mutter writes that he has an idea to solve the problem discussed at the confab, how to monetize online content. His proposal, in partnership with fellow CEO type Ridgely Evers, is called ViewPass.

“ViewPass would consist of a simple, one-time registration system that would remember users as they moved among participating websites,” Mutter writes. “It would build a profile of individual users from demographic information supplied by them, as well as by tracking the content they viewed as they moved from site to site.

“Like many of the several monetization systems coming to market, ViewPass would support payments for individual articles, subscriptions and bundles of content.”

In other words, you register once, and that allows you to seamlessly pay for content in various package sizes, while the content providers collect information about you and your reading habits, which allows advertisers to better market to you.

Mutter again: “The system’s greatest value would be the data it assembled on each individual consumer, because the data would enable publishers to sell their advertising inventory at premium rates to advertisers seeking to target their messages to the most likely consumers.”

This is a great idea, except it’s exactly backwards and totally wrong.

Let me get this straight: I, faithful reader, am supposed to pay money for content I now get for free, and I have to let the publications harvest personal information so they can market to me?

Do I look stupid?

That personal information is an asset of mine that I am sometimes willing to sell, but not always. It is a thing that has value. Mutter says so himself: “The system’s greatest value would be the data it assembled on each individual consumer.”

If a publication thinks it would benefit from having that thing of value, it should make me an offer. I’m open for business.

The grocery store gives me discounts and coupons in exchange for information about my buying patterns so it can market effectively to me. It seems like a square deal, so I take it. I’m not saying my information’s worth millions. But it’s worth a little sumpn-sumpn. I’m certainly not going to pay you to take it from me.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this: When I have to register to read something, even if it’s otherwise free, I usually decline. It’s just not worth the effort. Never mind cash money, that effort alone is already a payment I’m not willing to make. Rare is the information I can’t get elsewhere without having to jump through some hoop.

And if I really can’t get it elsewhere and have to register, I always lie. Why? Because I don’t want to give away something, true information about myself, that I can sell, to an organization that I thought was going to provide me a service, but has now turned into a pain in my ass.

So the advertiser that gets my information from the publication that harvested it by making me register gets bad information and wastes its money by trying to sell me something that might be interesting to a 22-year-old who lives in Arizona.

But otherwise, yeah, great idea. I’m sure people will be lining up to go through the chore of registering. I’m sure the masses will be clamoring to give away personal information that other businesses pay them for, panting at the chance to pay for previously free content that they can get elsewhere pretty easily.

Thank goodness, journalism is saved.